Jun 03, 2013

    S'pore supports moves to ease sea rows

    SINGAPORE supports the idea of claimant states entering into a "no first use of force" agreement with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday.

    Dr Ng said such an agreement is in line with the peaceful settlement of disputes in Asean's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

    Countries also need to quickly establish channels of communication and other mechanisms at the operational and political levels, to prevent or mitigate the escalation of tensions, he added.

    Dr Ng was speaking on the third and last day of the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit.

    The idea of a "no first use of force" agreement was raised by Vietnam Deputy Minister of National Defence Nguyen Chi Vinh, who gave a speech before Dr Ng yesterday.

    Vietnam, Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan have competing claims over parts of the South China Sea.

    Dr Ng said regional navies could also look into increasing information sharing, especially with regard to standard operating procedures, in the event of incidents at sea.

    He also welcomed Brunei's proposal of setting up "hotlines" to quickly defuse tensions at sea.

    Asian security specialist William Choong told My Paper that Singapore does not have a direct stake in the South China Sea dispute.

    But "unintended escalations" in the waters - such as miscalculations resulting in an exchange of fire - could affect the openness of sea lanes for communication, which Singapore's trade depends on, said Dr Choong, who is from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Asia.

    "We are a small nation, a small boat, that can be rocked about by big currents in the ocean," he said. ADRIAN LIM