Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen seen at the Singapore Airshow 2018. Photo: Reuters
Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen seen at the Singapore Airshow 2018. Photo: Reuters

China and Singapore agreed on Monday to deepen military-to-military ties, during a meeting between China’s Defense Minister Gen Chang Wanquan and his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen.

Playing up their personal relationship during their seventh official meeting together, the two officials voiced optimism about future prospects for the bilateral relationship.

“I was very touched when [Gen Chang] said to me during this visit, ‘Coming to Singapore, is not like going away, but visiting good friends in the same town,’” Ng said in a Facebook post.

The Straits Times reporting on the event drew the attention of China’s state media, which cited the Singaporean newspaper as saying the situation in the South China Sea was “improving.” In response to a question on the report, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson cited an Ancient Chinese poem.

“The duck is the first to know when the water of the Spring River gets warm,” ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang was quoted by China’s official CCTV as saying about the Straits Times depiction of Monday’s events.

Meanwhile, as the two ministers discussed “regional security issues” in broad terms, the US sent its top diplomat overseeing arms sales to the Singapore Airshow, where the US showcased F-35B fighters for the first time in the region.

As part of its efforts to transform its air force, the Singaporean military has already stocked up on aircraft from the US, as Defense News reported Monday. 40 Boeing F-15SG Strike Eagle multirole fighters have been delivered while the service is expected to receive two Lockheed Martin S-70B Seahawk anti-submarine helicopters this year. Lockheed is also upgrading the air force’s fleet of 60 F-16s, which are expected to serve until the 2030s.

Due to Singapore’s limited airspace, the air force has arranged with Washington to locate F-16 and F-15SG training in the US.

Boeing also deepened ties with the Singapore Air Force by signing a new agreement this week to collaborate on data analytics to co-develop algorithms for detection of failures, and diagnose problems.

The arms deals come as other regional actors, including Thailand and Malaysia, have turned to China for cheaper wares. Singapore is also set to assume ASEAN chairmanship this year, while the US posture has brought the South China Sea back into focus, labeling China as a strategic competitor.