Dramatic Steps in Singapore To Prevent U.S.-China Military Conflict

October 22, 2018
Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng meeting US Secretary of Defense James Mattis prior to the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus on 20 October 2018. (Singapore Ministry for Defence)
Singapore's Minister for Defence Dr Ng meeting US Secretary of Defense James Mattis prior to the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus on 20 October 2018. (Singapore Ministry for Defence)

U.S., Chinese and Russian Defense Ministers were part of the "ASEAN Plus" forum in Singapore this week, where dramatic steps were taken to prevent any U.S.-China conflict in the South China Sea. After years of intense efforts by the Bush and Obama Administrations to provoke a military showdown with China over sovereignty issues in the South China Sea, Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced Saturday that ASEAN naval contingents were on their way to Zhanjiang in Guangdong Province (the base for the PLA Navy) to take part in a joint ASEAN-China naval exercise in the South China Sea, beginning Monday. Ng also announced, following a meeting of ASEAN defense ministers with their U.S. counterpart, Gen. James Mattis, that ASEAN and the U.S. will also hold naval exercises sometime next year (location to be determined).

The ten ASEAN defense ministers issued a statement which included: "[we] welcome the conduct of the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise in 2018, and intention to conduct the ASEAN-United States Maritime Exercise in 2019, which will enhance friendship and confidence between ASEAN member states navies and the People's Liberation Army Navy and the United States Navy." General Mattis also held a one-on-one meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe for 90 minutes. Randall Schriver, a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters after the meeting that Mattis had described the meeting as "straightforward and candid," and that the Chinese "are interested in having a military relationship that's a stabilizing force in the overall relationship."

A "deconfliction" agreement was signed by the ASEAN ministers, and endorsed by defense ministers Mattis and Wei, to expand on guidelines intended to "reduce the likelihood of encounters or incidents spiraling into conflict in the event of miscalculation."

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