Earlier this month, Malaysia and Singapore carried out the second iteration of a new bilateral exercise. The interaction highlighted the ongoing military collaboration underway between the two Southeast Asian neighbors despite the lingering challenges in the bilateral relationship and wider regional and domestic developments.
As I have noted before in these pages, though Malaysia and Singapore, two neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, have had a rather prickly relationship in the past and problems do arise in ties from time to time, their militaries interact regularly through various bilateral exchanges and exercises as well as under multilateral arrangements.
That pattern has continued over the past few years. While both sides have had to continue managing some security-related challenges between them, including outstanding disputes, established manifestations of collaboration have been ongoing and the two countries have also periodically added new interactions as well, with a case in point being a new air force exercise focused on search and rescue known as Search and Rescue Exercise Malsing (SAREX Malsing) launched back in April 2018.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight again with the visit of Malaysia’s air force chief to Singapore. Chief of the Royal Malaysia Air Force (RMAF) Ackbal Abdul Samad paid what was his introductory visit to Singapore in his current capacity.
Ackbal’s visit, which lasted from January 21 to January 22, consisted of a series of interactions. In terms of meetings, he met with a range of Singapore defense officials including Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen, Chief of Defense Force Lieutenant-General Melyvn Ong and Chief of Air Force Major-General Kelvin Khong.
Few details were publicly disclosed about the private deliberations between the two sides. Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF) only noted that Ng and Akbal had reaffirmed the importance of maintaining strong ties between the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the RMAF, and that his visit underscored the longstanding bilateral defense ties between the two countries.
Beyond those meetings, Ackbal’s trip also consisted of other interactions as well. For instance, per MINDEF, Ackbal also visited Singapore defense facilities including 142 Squadron at Paya Lebar Air Base, where he received a brief on the RSAF’s Air Combat Command and viewed the F-15SG fighter aircraft on static display.
To be sure, Ackbal’s introductory trip was just among a series of interactions in Malaysia-Singapore defense relations, and ties are not without their challenges as is the wider bilateral relationship. Nonetheless, these interactions also spotlight how ongoing efforts to continue to make investments in their security relationship to help manage opportunities and challenges in their ties.