Singapore

Singapore ready to take part in joint patrols in Sulu Sea

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue

Singapore is ready to take part in joint patrols in the Sulu Sea in any way needed, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday.

It also welcomed indications from Malaysia and Indonesia that they want it to play a bigger role in combating maritime crime in the waters off the southern Philippines, amid concerns that terrorist elements could gain a foothold in the region.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Dr Ng noted that Singapore had offered to participate in the patrols at any time Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines think is appropriate.

It has also offered the assistance of its Information Fusion Centre at Changi Naval Base.

"I'm glad Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu as well as Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein have said that when they are more settled, they will ask Singapore," Dr Ng said.

"My reply to them is, 'We stand ready to assist in the Sulu Sea patrols or in other counter-terrorism initiatives when asked by others'. It is in our interests to do so," he said.

Dr Ng met his counterparts over the weekend, and Mr Hishammuddin said joint sea patrols would kick off on June 19, and air patrols later.

Mr Ryamizard also told a panel that the Sulu Sea patrols were mooted to combat piracy, but could now be a platform to fight terrorism.

Dr Ng said it is critical to prevent terrorists from exploiting networks in the Sulu Sea that facilitate the illegal smuggling of weapons, humans and drugs.

Referring to the ongoing crisis in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Dr Ng reiterated that if terrorists gain a foothold in this region, they will be able to spread their violence to other Asean cities.

This is why Singapore is a participant in the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, even though the threat in Iraq and Syria is far away, he said.

Dr Ng said that besides the global terror threat - underscored by Saturday's attack in London - key issues raised were North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and the rules of a future security order.

RULES-BASED ORDER

"Everyone agreed on a rules- based order but what the exact rules are, who benefits, whether it is accepted by more or less, and how do you accommodate - if you would like - regional interests, minority interests, were all questions raised."

Dr Ng also said that at a US-Asean defence ministers' meeting with US Secretary of Defence James Mattis yesterday morning, Asean ministers voiced support for continued US presence in the region.

Asked about the level of representation from China, which sent its lowest-level chief delegate since 2012, Dr Ng said Lieutenant-General He Lei was very open during discussions.

"From what I hear, Lt-Gen He gave a very good account, as well as other Chinese representatives, so I am very happy with the Chinese contributions this year," he said.

"I look less at level of representation than what the messages are."

Dr Ng also noted that the topic of US-China relations featured less this year compared with previous editions of the forum, as it was overshadowed by the instability on the Korean peninsula as well as the situation in Marawi.

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World leaders react to London attack

"The attack was a deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners and visitors to our city enjoying their Saturday night. There is no justification whatsoever for such barbaric acts."

- London Mayor Sadiq Khan

"Today we are united across borders in horror and mourning but also in determination. For Germany, I reiterate that in the fight against all forms of terrorism, we are resolutely on Britain's side."

- Chancellor Angela Merkel

"In the face of this new tragedy, France is more than ever at Britain's side. My thoughts go out to the victims and their loved ones."

- President Emmanuel Macron

"May the Holy Spirit bring peace to the whole world, cure it of the plagues of war and terrorism, which has struck innocent civilians in London last night. Let us pray for the victims and those close to them."

- Pope Francis

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