SYDNEY: The defence ministers of Singapore and Australia will hold annual talks to boost security ties and ongoing cooperation on training and operations.
During his first visit to Australia as Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen met his Australian counterpart, Mr Stephen Smith, and the two announced the plan to entrench the dialogue.
Previously, such talks were held on an irregular basis, including at multilateral forums such as the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.
Singapore and Australia already have extensive military ties, including joint training exercises, personnel exchanges and a shared commitment to the war in Afghanistan.
The Singapore Armed Forces receives access to Australian training areas, including the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, which covers more than 450,000ha.
Singapore's air force also trains in Australia, with its 130 Squadron and S-211 fighter trainer aircraft based at Pearce air force base north of Perth. Dr Ng, who began his post as defence minister last year, visited the training institute yesterday.
During the visit, Dr Ng operated a flight simulator and chatted with pilot trainees and Singapore air force personnel stationed there.
He also made a rare visit with Mr Smith to Campbell Barracks, Swanbourne, a base for Australia's elite forces, the Special Air Service Regiment. The two ministers later laid a wreath at Kings Park in Perth to commemorate the Australian and Singaporean troops captured and killed during the Battle for Singapore during the Second World War.
Dr Ng said Singapore remained committed to the mission in Afghanistan despite setbacks such as the 'tragic incident' earlier this month in which an American soldier killed 17 civilians.
'We all wish that it did not occur,' he said. 'What triggered our involvement in Afghanistan were the deaths that occurred from terrorism, and I think that fight is still worth fighting.'
Singapore's commitment to Afghanistan includes medical and anti-explosives units, some of whom work directly with Australia's 1,500-odd troops in Oruzgan province. Singapore has 39 troops stationed there, according to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.
'We still have to commit to it because all of us have invested a considerable amount of resources,' Dr Ng said. 'Lives have been lost on both sides.'
Dr Ng said both Australia and Singapore were strongly committed to the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.
'If we allow Afghanistan to slide back, then I think it would be a worse outcome,' he said.
On Thursday, Dr Ng met in Canberra with Mr Smith and the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Bob Carr, as well as the Shadow Defence Minister, Mr David Johnston.