Singapore Defence Minister warns simultaneous war in Asia and Europe would be “catastrophic”

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Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

3rd June 2023 – (Singapore) Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has warned that the simultaneous outbreak of war in Asia and Europe, similar to the situation in Ukraine, would be “catastrophic.” Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s top defence summit, Ng expressed concern over the ongoing tensions between the United States and China and urged both sides to avoid conflict and war. The US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin also spoke at the summit and expressed concern about China’s unwillingness to engage in military crisis management.

The relationship between the U.S. and China is at its lowest point in years, as they remain deeply divided over issues like Taiwan, espionage, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would never renounce the right to use force over Taiwan. Tensions between Beijing and Taipei have risen dramatically after China staged war games near Taiwan last August following then-US house speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island.

Earlier this week, China’s Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu declined an invitation to meet Mr Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue. On Friday, they shook hands on the sidelines of the summit, but did not hold detailed talks, the Pentagon said.

Speaking at a roundtable with 29 visiting ministers and their representatives, Ng expressed hope that American and Chinese defence leaders would resume their physical meetings. He noted that Singapore was not in a position to comment on diplomatic relations between other countries. “But from what they have said publicly, they do want open lines of communication,” he added.

Part of the Shangri-La Dialogue is the priceless and almost non-substitutable element of “maybe five to ten minutes of just meeting each other and the interchange, knowing your body language, knowing what you like, what you don’t like.” Ng pointed out that these relationships are very important.

As for what has been achieved thus far at the summit in terms of easing tensions between U.S. and China, Ng said that “everyone is concerned,” especially Mr Austin. “That’s been shown again and again because even if you go into conflict, you want to be able to pick up the phone and say, look, we have this situation, how do we de-escalate it because it’s either not worth it or you know, it’s not within our objectives?”

Dr Ng also addressed a question on whether the fact that an American warship is currently transiting through the Taiwan Strait is undercutting efforts to establish open lines of communication between the U.S. and China. He said that each country wants to follow international law but may have “slightly different interpretations” of it.

“But I would say that commitment and realisation that conflict in Asia will be devastating overwrites all this. It’s not only from the language they speak, it’s with the conviction when they speak, things that really reflect your true feelings. That gives me the conviction and the optimism that defence ministers know the price of war. We are doing as much as we can to avoid it.”

The ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China, along with the recent events in Ukraine, have raised concerns about the possibility of a global conflict. As Dr Ng pointed out, the simultaneous outbreak of war in Asia and Europe would be catastrophic. It is essential that both sides engage in dialogue and work towards resolving their issues peacefully. The Shangri-La Dialogue provides an opportunity for defence leaders to meet and discuss their concerns, and this must be used to its fullest potential. The world cannot afford another devastating war, and it is the responsibility of all nations to work towards preventing it.