30 July 2019
Tuesday, 30 July 2019, 0900HRS
Village Hotel Changi, Singapore
1. Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen. I would first like to extend my warm welcome to participants this morning to the 21st Asia-Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers, or APPSMO.
2. APPSMO was established in 1999. This was just two years after the Asian Financial Crisis that engulfed the region at that time. The financial crisis had lasting consequences for many parts of Southeast Asia and vividly illustrated the interdependency between security and prosperity – in countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, what had started as an economic downturn quickly evolved into a political and security crisis.
3. Amidst the gloomy backdrop, our late President, S. R. Nathan started APPSMO as a “Summer Camp” to bring together senior military officers from this region and beyond to interact, build friendships, and exchange views on key security issues of the day. Over the last two decades, APPSMO has grown in scope, depth, and diversity. Today, it brings together experts, practitioners, and participants from more than 30 countries to discuss a broad range of security issues. And as the geopolitical environment becomes more uncertain and complex, this interaction and exchange of perspectives among military and defence officials has become more critical for countries to avoid mistrust and enhance mutual understanding. So allow me to congratulate RSIS for keeping this APPSMO tradition alive for 21 years and I am sure many more years to go.
4. I thought it would be useful to begin my speech proper by reflecting on the history of the region before I get into the issue of looking ahead to the new opportunities and tackling emerging challenges in a world that is at a turning point. This year, as some of you know, Singapore is commemorating our Bicentennial. 200 years ago, an Englishman by the name of Stamford Raffles founded a trading post here in Singapore. Raffles saw the trade potential of the region and wanted to look for a new outpost for the British East India Company along the Straits of Malacca. At that time, the Dutch had already colonised the Dutch East Indies and established a monopoly in the region by prohibiting foreign ships from operating in their ports, and imposing high tariffs on trade. What Raffles did, on the other hand, set up Singapore as a free port. That decision changed the destiny of Singapore. As traders from all over the world flocked to Singapore, the small quiet British settlement evolved rapidly into a booming entrepot with a vibrant multi-ethnic community.
5. In the same period, many parts of Southeast Asia rapidly came under colonial rule, and by 1909, was completely divided among the American and European powers. Despite the intense rivalry among the colonial powers, no single power dominated the region until the arrival of the Japanese in Sep 1940. With many of the colonial powers fighting for their survival in Europe, their colonial polities in Southeast Asia fell quickly in the face of Japanese determined to assault. Consequently, the next three years and eight months of the Japanese interregnum was to mark a very dark and bleak period in the history of the region. In Singapore, many of our people endured hunger, poverty, fear, and the loss of their loved ones.
6. The end of the Japanese occupation in 1945 was followed by a wave of rebellions, civil wars, political instability, and anti-colonial movements. This period of decolonisation in Southeast Asia was to intersect with the Cold War. Here, once again, Southeast Asia was beset by conflict, abetted by the global superpowers, between the communist and non-communist forces. Many of these conflicts, the Malayan Emergency, Konfrontasi, and the Vietnam War, exacted a heavy cost on the people of this region. It also impressed upon our early leaders the need for a regional mechanism to build trust, establish dialogue, and manage our differences. Thus, ASEAN was formed in 1967 to bring countries in Southeast Asia together to resolve our differences through dialogue, cooperation, and friendship. The leaders of the five founding members of ASEAN then knew that for the region to prosper, there has to be peace, stability, and security, and that we are better off working together than against each other.
7. Since the end of the Cold War and with five more new member states, ASEAN has evolved to address key issues of the day affecting the region and beyond. It has been progressively expanded to involve all countries in Southeast Asia, established the ASEAN Charter to strengthen unity and cooperation, and fostered regional cooperation through ASEAN-led institutions such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, and the East Asia Summit. With security threats becoming a pressing issue, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM-Plus were established in 2006 and 2010 respectively to tackle key common security threats and foster practical military cooperation across the Asia-Pacific. Today, the ADMM and ADMM-Plus provide a useful platform to foster cooperation among its members to combat common security threats, including terrorism which remains a key challenge in Southeast Asia.
8. Terrorism continues to be the key existential threat in Southeast Asia. It has become the central focus of terrorist groups after ISIS lost its hold in the Middle East. Earlier this month, the arrest of Para Wijayanto in Indonesia – leader of the Southeast Asia terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – revealed that JI was using a palm oil plantation business to fund its terrorist activities. While terrorist groups in Southeast Asia used to obtain funds from external sources and illicit activities, we are witnessing a new trend of terrorists using legitimate businesses, such as travel agencies, herbal medicine, and electronics businesses, to fund their activities.
9. In the fight against terrorism, international cooperation and intelligence-sharing among countries are key. Hence, during Singapore’s 2018 ASEAN Chairmanship, we worked with fellow ADMM members to adopt the ASEAN Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defence Network and ASEAN “Our Eyes” initiatives to enhance regional counter-terrorism cooperation through the sharing of information and expertise.
10. Besides terrorism, threats from the digital domain is another cause for concern. These threats are not geographically bound and hackers or cyber-criminals can easily act anonymously from anywhere in the vast and wide cyberspace. Moreover, because of our open economies, many regional countries are exposed to the risk of cyber-attacks. Cyber criminals are reportedly zeroing in on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in this region as these typically have low IT budgets and tend to compromise on IT security. Cyber criminals could leverage these security gaps to launch large-scale cyber-attacks on public services or national infrastructures.
11. I have only briefly highlighted two security threats the region faces today, and the backdrop of our history. There are many others. It is crucial that regional countries work closely together to ensure that we are better prepared to tackle these threats together before they grow more complex and extensive.
12. Besides tackling common security threats, ASEAN states and regional partners should work hand-in-hand to preserve the existing multilateral order that has benefited the region and beyond. Although the pace of multilateralism has slowed down with the ensuing US-China competition, small and medium-sized states must continue to work together to strengthen multilateral institutions, and create momentum to spur regional cooperation in security and trade.
13. Let me cite the example of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Initially a trade agreement between four countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore, it expanded to include eight more negotiating countries. While there were initial concerns that the TPP would collapse in the face of the US withdrawal, the remaining 11 countries pressed ahead, and resuscitated a landmark deal by reaching an agreement that later became known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in Mar 2018. This revived version of the TPP is set to reduce tariffs in 11 economies that together account for more than 13 per cent of the world’s GDP.
14. On the defence front, the ADMM has galvanised the region to focus on practical military cooperation through confidence building measures. Through the establishment of the Experts’ Working Groups (EWGs) in 2011, for instance, the ADMM-Plus countries have concluded many military exercises, in domains such as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and counter-terrorism. More recently in May 2019, ADMM-Plus countries came together to conduct the EWG on Maritime Security field training exercise that was co-organised by Singapore and the Republic of Korea. The exercise was significant in building confidence in the region, while deepening mutual understanding and building trust amongst the navies.
15. One other major initiative that Singapore had pursued during its Chairmanship last year was the Guidelines for Air Military Encounters (GAME). GAME, along with the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), are very important and practical confidence-building measures that we hope will help build trust and avoid miscalculations among regional militaries, big or small, in the air or sea domains. Hence, we are pleased that last year the ADMM-Plus Defence Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to CUES and expressed their in-principle support for GAME.
16. We have come a long way but we must continue to pursue and strengthen multilateral cooperation, particularly when it is becoming more severely stressed today. And to ensure that multilateralism prevails, the role of small and medium-sized states have become even more important, and we have to work together to strengthen the long-standing system. Doing so will enable us to tackle regional threats more effectively as well as provide platforms for countries to engage other powers to maintain peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and the rest of the world.
17. I wish all APPSMO participants a fruitful and enriching programme. More importantly, I hope that the relationships that you will form over the next few days will help in building trust between all our countries when you return home to assume senior leadership in your positions. Let me once again congratulate RSIS for this successful hosting of another edition of APPSMO.
18. Thank you, and have a pleasant day.
- Welcome Remarks by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS
- 21st APPSMO Event Page
Last updated on 31/07/2019