April 25, 2023
SINGAPORE – The navies of Singapore and China will conduct joint drills in April following a hiatus that was caused in part by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said on Monday that the second Exercise Maritime Cooperation – the flagship bilateral maritime exercise by both countries – will be held from April 28 to May 1. The first edition of the exercise was held in Singapore in 2015, a four-day affair that involved three ships.
This year’s exercise will involve four ships: Singapore’s Formidable-class frigate RSS Intrepid and Bedok-class mine countermeasure vessel RSS Punggol, and China’s Jiangkai II-class frigate CNS Yulin and Wozang-class Minesweeper CNS Chibi.
Earlier on Monday, China’s Defence Ministry said the two People’s Liberation Army Navy ships will be in Singapore to take part in the exercise, which will comprise both on-shore and at-sea components. Neither ministry specified where the drill is to take place.
The Chinese navy delegation will also attend a biennial naval and maritime defence event, Imdex Asia, to be held at the Changi Exhibition Centre in Singapore from May 3 to 5.
In its statement, Mindef said that the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) conducts regular bilateral and multilateral exercises with foreign navies as part of its ongoing effort to enhance mutual trust and cooperation with other countries.
The exercise with China underscores the warm and friendly bilateral defence relations between the two countries, said the ministry, and enhances mutual trust, understanding and people-to-people ties between their armed forces.
The resumption of the exercise in 2023 was agreed to by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and his counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, during a November 2022 meeting in Xi’an, China.
Defence cooperation between Singapore and China was boosted in 2019 under an upgrade to the Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation pact. Both sides agreed to scale up Exercise Maritime Cooperation and the army-to-army Exercise Cooperation last held in 2019.
The navies last held a smaller-scale passage exercise in 2021 in international waters at the southern tip of the South China Sea. It had involved communication operations, formation movements and joint search and rescue.
The resumption of China’s military engagement with South-east Asia comes as the United States ramps up its drills in the region.
Treaty allies US and the Philippines are holding their largest annual joint exercise involving more than 17,000 personnel in April.
In August 2022, China and Thailand held a 12-day joint air force exercise called Falcon Strike 2022 that was meant to enhance mutual trust and friendship.
That month, 13 countries were involved in Exercise Super Garuda Shield between the US and Indonesia, making it the largest edition of the exercise that started in 2009.