Australia, Singapore say defense pact should not worry China

A Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 fighter.
Paul Crock | AFP | Getty Images

China should not see increased military cooperation between Singapore and Australia through a deal that will dramatically expand northern Australian training facilities as an attempt to contain it, the two prime ministers said on Thursday.

Australian and Singaporean officials signed a pact under which Singapore will spend up to 2.25 billion Australian dollars ($1.7 billion) to double the capacity of its facilities in military training areas in Queensland state.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said China was the biggest trading partner of both Singapore and Australia. The agreement was part of regional cooperation, he said.

"I don't think that Singapore and Australia together could possibly be seen as a bloc" against China, Lee told reporters. "We are good friends, but we are not treaty allies and neither are we opposed to any countries in the region."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he agreed with Lee and his view that the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region had underpinned the region's stability and prosperity for the past 40 years.

"That extraordinary growth, perhaps most of all in China, has been underpinned by that foundation of peace," Turnbull said. "The importance of American engagement in our region cannot be overstated."

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaks to members and senators of the Australian government, Parliament House in Canberra on October 12, 2016.
Mark Graham | AFP | Getty Images

As well as U.S. military involvement in the region, both prime ministers hoped U.S. Congress would agree to join the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, even though both Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have come out against the pact.

Under the new defense deal, the Singapore military will triple their annual access to the Australian training grounds to 18 weeks. Singapore troop numbers will increase from 6,600 to 14,000.

The Chinese Embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China has been critical of a comparable deal between Australia and the United States to make the northern Australian city of Darwin a growing training hub for U.S. Marines.

Australia and the United States last week struck a cost-sharing deal to pay for more than AU$2 billion in infrastructure to accommodate up to 2,500 Marines.

The number of Marines rotating through Darwin has grown since the first contingent of 200 visited for six months in 2012. The latest rotation of 1,100 Marines left Darwin on Thursday after six months.

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