China, Singapore vow to boost military exchanges in latest sign of improved relations

Li Jiayao
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a ceremony in Beijing in September. Observers said Lee’s visit suggested relations between the two countries were back on track. Photo: EPA


China and Singapore have pledged to step up military exchanges, including joint anti-terrorism and naval drills, in the latest sign of improved ties between the two countries.

Rear Admiral Jiang Guoping, an assistant to the People’s Liberation Army’s chief of the Joint Staff Department, said on Monday that China was willing to further strengthen cooperation with Singapore on areas such as joint anti-terrorism and naval exercises, and personnel training, according to a statement on the defence ministry website.

Jiang said the two countries’ military ties had “developed smoothly” in recent years, adding that China looked forward to taking relations to “a new level”. China also supported Singapore in its role as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year, he said.

Chan was quoted in the statement as saying that Singapore looked forward to high-level exchanges and joint exercises with the Chinese military to improve defence cooperation between the two countries.

He also said Singapore welcomed and supported China to continue its development and play a bigger role in regional affairs, according to the statement.

The goodwill gestures were the latest sign that relations between the nations could be getting back to normal, following Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s three-day China visit in September.

Their relations have been tested over the past year, with Beijing accusing the Lion City of siding with the United States over the South China Sea disputes – in which Singapore is not a claimant – and honouring an international tribunal ruling from July 2016 that dismissed most of Beijing’s claims to the waters.

Tensions escalated when Hong Kong customs impounded nine Singaporean armoured troop carriers being shipped back to the city state en route from training grounds in Taiwan in November last year. Hong Kong released the military vehicles after a two-month stand-off.

Singapore has conducted regular military exercises with Taiwan since 1974 under the Starlight Project, which has long been a thorn in China’s side.

In May, ties between the two countries came under scrutiny when Lee was absent from a major summit in Beijing on China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” – a plan to boost infrastructure and trade links from Asia to Africa. But observers said Lee’s visit to China in September suggested relations were back on track.

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