Punching above our weight: Here is how S’pore is playing a role in world peace  

06/06/2024

Once a year, heads of state, defence ministers and military chiefs descend on Singapore for an unofficial security summit organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Over time, the annual conference took on the namesake of the hotel hosting the event, becoming known to the world as the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD).  

Since the inaugural meeting back in 2002, the SLD has grown into a top global defence summit. But more importantly, Singapore has been at the heart of it all, proving that small states can still matter in the fight for global security and peace. It’s important also to note that the forum is attended not just by regional defence chiefs but also their counterparts from USA and China.   

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong chats with an old friend of Singapore, Timor-Leste President José Ramos-Horta. 

“Singapore is glad to do our part to contribute to regional peace and stability by hosting such multilateral platforms, and fostering greater cooperation and understanding in our region,” said Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.  

Why the Shangri-La Dialogue matters more than ever 

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen hosted 24 Ministers and their representatives at a Roundtable discussion on the sidelines of SLD 2024.  

Global peace has become more tenuous than ever before in the last few years. Rising nationalism, increased rivalry and actual warfare erupting in the Middle East and Europe have since shattered the illusion of peace. The ripples are felt worldwide, but none more so than in small states. That is why, while Singapore has little sway in influencing the decisions of big powers, it can (and has) been an ardent advocate for a rules-based international order. Because without it, small states like we are might as well be sitting ducks. 

As such, one cannot overstate the importance of the annual SLD held last weekend (31 May – 2 June). Acting as a platform for governments to exchange perspectives on defence and security issues informally, it allows countries to build understanding and foster cooperation with each other. 

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong welcomes Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his first visit to Singapore.  

In particular, this year’s SLD has made waves worldwide. There was a surprise visit by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who received a rockstar welcome. But even more of a triumph in the capricious world of geopolitics was the face-to-face meeting between Lloyd Austin and Dong Jun, defence chiefs of the United States and China, respectively.

Indeed, there have been strong messages and veiled threats over Taiwan and the South China Sea. However, perhaps by throwing their red lines out in the open, there is hope that future policy responses will de-escalate the situation and stop tensions from brewing further. In fact, some analysts noticed that other than the usual boilerplate warnings to each other, both US and Chinese leaders were careful not to go overboard with their rhetoric that could raise further tensions between the two superpowers. 

Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen speaking at the seventh plenary session of the SLD, titled “Re-imagining Solutions for Global Peace and Regional Stability”.  

After all, as Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen pointed out, “We must avoid a physical conflict in Asia because we can all agree that neither Asia nor the world can withstand a third geopolitical shock.” 

Defence diplomacy for Singapore  

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen meet with Defence Ministers of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA).  

Over the last two decades, hosting the SLD has been part of Singapore’s defence diplomacy. This year, we saw Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen reaffirming bilateral cooperation with many of our regional partners.  

“Singapore will continue to work with all our partners in the region and beyond to promote constructive dialogue and to safeguard the multilateral rules-based order that is indispensable for maintaining peace and prosperity,” said Mr Wong.  

Prime Minister Lawrence Wong meet with Indonesian President-elect and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto.  

Through hosting the SLD, Singapore has provided itself and others the opportunity to build understanding and strengthen defence relations. And in doing so, Singapore is leading the way, that small states can also have a part to play towards building world peace and stability. 

Photo Source: MFA/ MINDEF/ Dr Ng Eng Hen/ Lawrence Wong via Facebook