“Dark storm clouds” threaten South China Sea, Ng Eng Hen urges common rules be adopted by countries in the region

“Of concern too in this maritime region are the different rules adopted by various countries that govern the use of the global maritime commons," said the defense minister

Facebook screengrab: Ng Eng Hen

Singapore — At the opening of this year’s 12th International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX) Asia on Tuesday, May 14, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen warned of “dark storm clouds” over the region that could threaten its well being. He urged for common rules to be adopted for the seas and their use, in order to prevent conflict and ensure continued prosperity.

IMDEX, which is attended by high-level officials from over 40 navies from different parts of the globe, is a biennial maritime defence show held at the Changi Exhibition Centre.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, there were 26 defence and navy chiefs, vice-chiefs of navy, and directors-general of coast guards. Over 230 companies are participating in the three-day expo, which will feature 25 warships from 15 different countries.

In his opening address, Dr Ng said,

“We need calm seas in this region to ensure that global commerce continues and good relations between countries are maintained. But there are dark storm clouds on the horizon that can threaten the global maritime commons and our shared prosperity.”

This led to the issue of the need for common rules for all nations to follow. “Of concern too in this maritime region are the different rules adopted by various countries that govern the use of the global maritime commons. Not least rules that relate to freedom of navigation but also extending to maritime territorial claims on fisheries and other resources.

Because so much depends on the seas, we need a strong consensus from all countries for common rules for the seas and their use. For the South China Sea disputes, the Code of Conduct (COC) can pave the way for agreement on international maritime norms and conflict prevention.”

Tensions in the South China Sea heated up lately when two United States warships sailed close to islands that have been claimed by China as part of its territory on May 6. The Chinese Government called the US out on this move, saying that it violated China’s sovereignty, and threatened peace in the region.

Dr Ng made mention of the draft document that the ASEAN nations and China have agreed on, which will be the foundation of negotiations for the COC in the South China Sea.

“It is good that ASEAN and China have come to an agreement on a single draft negotiating text, and all of us urge quick progress and an expeditious conclusion of a meaningful and impactful COC.”

He also talked about how Singapore is a maritime area at heart, “Today, global connectivity has increased by leaps and bounds through air, land, sea and the Internet. But the seas still hold powerful forces that can continue to shape the destinies of our countries, individually or collectively. Indeed, as global commerce has increased, so too has the significance of sea lines of communication as global arteries for trade.”

Singapore is situated at the confluence of two “key arterial networks” formed by the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea, as a report from Channel NewsAsia (CNA) points out. This means that almost one-fourth of all global trade goes through the Singapore Strait on over one thousand vessels daily.

“They carry every kind of product and commodity that are essential for modern economies to live, function and thrive. Maritime history teaches us that whenever and wherever there is conflict on the seas, surrounding countries and their common folk invariably suffer,” Dr Ng added. /TISG

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