'We are not in a comfortable place': Singapore defence minister warns of 'disastrous' consequences of war in Asia

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'We are not in a comfortable place': Singapore defence minister warns of 'disastrous' consequences of war in Asia

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen speaking at the Maritime Security Roundtable during the 59th Munich Security Conference on Feb 17, 2023.

18 Feb 2023 09:49AM (Updated: 18 Feb 2023 09:49AM)

Singapore’s defence minister on Friday (Feb 17) warned that war in Asia would be devastating not just for the continent, but for the rest of the world.

Speaking at the Maritime Security Roundtable at the 59th Munich Security Conference, Dr Ng highlighted that world powers have been increasing their military presence in Asia, concluding that “pre-positioning for deterrence is alive and well”.

He cited the formations of strategic groupings like the Quad (United States, India, Australia, Japan) and AUKUS (US, Australia, United Kingdom), the US gaining more access to bases in the Philippines, as well as missile defence drills in South Korea as examples of what China would construe as “preparatory moves”.

Similarly, Beijing has also increased its military presence in the region, said Dr Ng – from patrols in the disputed South China Sea to Chinese jets regularly crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait.

Even so, “the war drums have not started beating audibly”, said Dr Ng.


So while both sides are not seeking physical conflict, Dr Ng said Taiwan would a strong determining factor.

He pointed out two narratives: One, putting Taiwan as a “bellwether of contest between autocracies and democracies” and the other being a battle for strategic resources, akin to the way countries previously fought over spices and oil. In today’s context, such resources would be the high-end chips that Taiwan supplies to the world.

Dr Ng said China would act or be forced to act in the event of any move towards Taiwanese independence. “It will be seen as another chapter of unequal treaties forced upon China, and no Chinese leader can stand accepting that,” said the minister.

Small events could also be a trigger for conflict, said Dr Ng, giving the example of how World War I broke out. He also cited more recent incidents like Chinese and US military planes coming within metres of each other over the South China Sea, and the Chinese surveillance balloon operating over US territory.

Summing up, Dr Ng warned of the disastrous consequence of war in Asia and that there are “viable alternatives” out there. 

“We are not in a comfortable place,” Dr Ng said. “The temperature is not boiling, but certainly rising. We must do all we can to cool it.

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