Singapore, a US ally

An interesting report notes that Singapore have approve US surveillance flights, “Singapore is granting the United States permission to fly sophisticated surveillance aircraft out of its territory to better monitor China’s island-building in the South China Sea, Foreign Policy has learned. The defense agreement to be unveiled Monday reflects Singapore’s concerns over China’s assertive stance on territorial disputes. It also points to a broader trend among countries in the region to seek out the United States as a counterweight to China’s expansionist moves in the contested waterway”.

The report goes on to mention “Two Pentagon officials said the deal will permit the U.S. Navy to operate P-8 Poseidon planes from Singapore’s airfields, providing Washington with a strategic vantage point to track Beijing’s military activity in the South China Sea, which is home to more than $5 trillion worth of commercial shipping. Singapore’s defence minister, Ng Eng Hen, will sign the cooperation agreement during a visit to Washington that will include talks on Monday with his American counterpart, Ash Carter, defense officials said”.

The article continues, noting that, “The plan to stage U.S. P-8 surveillance flights out of Singapore will almost certainly draw an angry reaction from Beijing. China has repeatedly objected to U.S. Navy vessels and reconnaissance planes operating in what it alleges is its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. But Washington and legal experts say the U.S. Navy is sailing ships and flying aircraft in international waters and airspace — in accordance with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Beijing has signed”.

The report goes on to make the point that “The U.S. military already flies maritime surveillance planes out of airfields in Japan and the Philippines. Malaysia also has reportedly invited the Americans to operate aircraft out of its eastern bases. The P-8 aircraft, a modified Boeing 737 jet, is equipped with advanced sensors and radar designed to gather intelligence and hunt down submarines. The United States has shared more intelligence, and provided radar and other equipment to Asian partners who are increasingly concerned over China’s growing military power and its tough tactics as it asserts far-reaching territorial claims”.

Naturally it goes on to mention “Southeast Asian governments fear that if China seizes control of disputed reefs and islands in the southern part of the Spratly archipelago and sets up military outposts, it could potentially dominate access to the resource-rich South China Sea. Beijing has promised not to pursue “militarization” of the area, but it appears to be building a third airstrip on its man-made islands after constructing runways elsewhere that could accommodate military aircraft. China has intercepted U.S. reconnaissance flights and ships patrolling the area, and there have been a number of close calls in recent years. In August 2014, a Chinese Su-27 fighter jet passed dangerously close to a P-8 plane, flying within 20 feet of the American aircraft near Hainan Island”.

Crucially it notes “The defense cooperation agreement to be embraced Monday highlights how Singapore — a tiny island country with a population of less than 6 million but a powerful economy — plays an outsized role in shaping diplomacy and trade in Southeast Asia at a time when China’s assertiveness is rankling its smaller neighbours. Even as it maintains strong trade ties with China, Singapore over the past decade has built a robust relationship with the American military, hosting a logistics command unit as well as U.S. Navy vessels for temporary stints — including new littoral combat ships (LCS) designed to operate close to shore in shallow waters. The first of four LCS vessels has started rotating through Singapore’s port for 10-month deployments. Singapore has invested billions of dollars in new weapons and fighter jets, devoting about 20 percent of its government spending to defence while steering clear of purchasing hardware from Russia or China. And the country’s Changi Naval Base is the only port in the region that can accommodate a visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier”.

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