Countries must cooperate to ensure shared use of the seas: Ng Eng Hen
Singapore leaders highlight importance of seas to trade and security
A strong consensus must be built around existing maritime-based rules by all countries to ensure the shared use of the seas, two Singapore leaders said yesterday, as they underlined how crucial the seas are to safety and to Singapore's prosperity.
At a defence trade fair yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen highlighted the need for more cooperation between governments and militaries, given the threat of terrorism from the sea and the difference in rules adopted by countries over freedom of navigation and maritime resources.
"Maritime history teaches us that whenever and wherever there is conflict on the seas, surrounding countries and their common folk invariably suffer.
"Because so much depends on the seas, we need strong consensus from all countries for common rules for the seas and their use," said Dr Ng, at the opening ceremony of the 12th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (Imdex) Asia.
Some 10,500 trade visitors are expected at the three-day Imdex Asia, a biennial maritime defence show at the Changi Exhibition Centre.
At a separate event in the evening, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said the seas are a global commons that facilitate the free flow of maritime trade but added that sharing is effective only if countries abide by the rules.
"We need to strengthen the existing rules-based order to provide a strong foundation of the global economy of tomorrow," he said, at the opening dinner of the 6th International Maritime Security Conference.
In his speech, Mr Chan said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) - the rules of the sea - ensures free and equitable usage of the maritime commons and should not be misconstrued as a division of sea territory.
"If we start to disregard international law, pursue self-interests and curtail the freedom of the seas, we threaten the very space shared by all maritime users," he said.
He noted that in Asia today, there are claims by regional states that do not abide by the terms of Unclos, which include territorial baselines drawn or claimed incorrectly, delimitations of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) from uninhabitable rocks and enforcement of EEZ for reasons other than protection of economic rights.
"Such claims go against the spirit of how Unclos was formed," he added.
Separately, Dr Ng said that while traditional maritime threats persist - such as transnational maritime terrorism, piracy, armed robbery and the trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans - better cooperation and organisation have led to improvement in some areas.
However, there are new challenges that require more work, such as potential terrorist threats on the southern flanks during the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Sentosa in June last year.
There is also a need to step up intelligence efforts as the centre of gravity of global terrorism shifts from the Middle East to other parts of the world, including this region, which has been susceptible to radical ideologies.