Think Tank (5/2023)
(L-R) Associate Prof Li Mingjiang and Mr Ashok Mirpuri
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APPSMO 2023: “Competition and Conflict in a Fragmented World”
02 Oct 2023

“Competition and Conflict in a Fragmented World” was the theme for the 24th Asia Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers (APPSMO 2023), held from 1 to 5 October 2023. Organised by the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), RSIS, APPSMO 2023 focused on this critical theme that stemmed from a more complex security landscape.

The geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific has changed significantly, and countries face riskier and more unpredictable times. Multilateralism on all fronts has been under enormous pressure due to competition and tensions among countries and the resultant deficit in strategic trust.

To uphold international peace, military institutions should step up efforts in defence diplomacy to build confidence and avoid or resolve conflict amicably. Despite different opinions on security issues and conflicting national interests, all countries share the common desire to manage security issues amicably and build durable peace in the region in which they live.

In that regard, APPSMO 2023 brought together more than 40 senior military officers from about 23 countries to examine key trends in defence and security-related issues, and promote interactions to reinforce military-to-military relations at the professional level. As confidence in multilateralism is at an all-time low in the current geopolitical landscape, the importance of communications and dialogue between countries, especially at the military level, cannot be understated.

Mr Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State for Defence, delivered the keynote address. Mr Heng spoke about the erosion of confidence in multilateralism at a time when the world is facing numerous global challenges that no country can solve alone. Technological advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) could spiral out of control to the detriment of all if countries fail to cooperate in developing global norms for responsible development and deployment. He emphasised the importance of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) as the only regional defence grouping where the major powers are active dialogue partners, and the need for ASEAN-led regional security architecture to adapt to remain relevant. Brigadier-General Frederick Choo, Chief of Staff-Joint Staff of the Singapore Armed Forces, was the guest of honour at the APPSMO opening dinner.

Mr Richard Maude, Executive Director, Policy, Asia Society Australia and Senior Fellow, Asia Society Policy Institute; delivered the scene-setting lecture on “A New Cold War? Navigating the Challenges When Great Powers Collide in the Asia-Pacific”. Prof Dr Mohd Faiz Abdullah, Chairman of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, delivered a special lecture on “Rising Geopolitical Competition: Implications for Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia”. Mr Ashok Mirpuri, former Ambassador of Singapore to the United States of America; delivered the distinguished dinner lecture on “China-US Contestation and the Road Ahead for Asia-Pacific States”.

In addition, APPSMO 2023 also featured Singaporean defence speakers such as Ms Tiana Desker, Director (Strategic Futures and Emerging Tech) of the Defence Policy Office, Singapore Ministry of Defence; Ms Yeo Seow Peng, Executive Director of the ADMM Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence (ACICE); and Lieutenant-Colonel Lester Yong, Head (Information Fusion Centre) of the Republic of Singapore Navy.

Ms Kenton Thibaut, Resident Fellow, China, and Head of China Research, Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) of the Atlantic Council, United States; and Mr Willis Lim, Director, National Cyber Threat Analysis Centre, Cyber Security Agency (CSA), Singapore; spoke about cyber and information threats in the digital domain. Prof Li Cheng, Director of the Centre on Contemporary China and the World at the University of Hong Kong, delivered a lecture on “China’s Rise and the Changing Rules of the Game”.

APPSMO 2023 concluded with a sobering panel on “Strategic Distrust in the Asia-Pacific: Southeast Asia Faces Shrinking Room for Hedging”, which featured Southeast Asian academics Dr Chheang Vannarith, President, Asian Vision Institute, Cambodia; Dr Shafiah F. Muhibat, Deputy Executive Director for Research, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Indonesia; Associate Professor Maria Thaemar Tana, Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines – Diliman; and Assistant Professor Dylan Loh, Public Policy and Global Affairs Programme, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.


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