Prime Minister Lee lauds 'ambitious' defence pact with Australia

Signing of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) cements the "partnership for many years to come," says Lee.

Lee makes historic address to Australian parliament
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at the International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo, Japan, September 29, 2016. Reuters

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the relations with Australia will take another step forward with the signing of a key pact that boosts the defence partnership between the two countries.

Making a historic address to the Australian parliament, Lee said the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) between Singapore and Australia was an 'ambitious' one that cements the "partnership for many years to come."

"I am happy that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and I have concluded the CSP, an ambitious package that enhances core aspects of our cooperation," said Lee, only the seventh world leader to address the Australian parliament.

While the defence partnership is the key element in the CSP, the allies look to enhance ties in trade, innovation and science as well.

Under the new defence treaty with Australia, one of the staunchest allies of the city state, Singapore gets a 25-year access for up to 14,000 soldiers to train for up to 18 weeks in Australia.

Though the Singapore Armed Forces have been undertaking training sessions in Australia since 1990, the latest deal allows greater access to the space-starved island nation. Earlier, only 6,000 soldiers could train at a time in Australia.

The $1.7 billion expansion plan deepens defence ties with key partner Australia has come at a time when Singapore's relations with regional super power China suffered a rude shock over South China Sea dispute.

The defence cooperation pact helps Singapore overcome its space constraints in terms of military training by allowing Singapore Self Defence Service to put as many as 14,000 personnel every year through the training facilities in Queensland.

Lee said cooperation with Australia will be enhanced as Singapore tries to contain the regional terror menace. "Our security agencies work closely and quietly together to fight terrorism – sharing intelligence and information, carrying out counter-terrorism operations, and exchanging notes on religious rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programmes," the prime minister said.

China ties in doldrums

Before Lee's summit meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Defence Minister Marise Payne said the signing of the deal signalled "a seminal change in our relationship with Singapore, who is already an extremely important partner".

"In the region it sends very positive signals about our preparedness to engage, about our preparedness to support ... the keys of security and stability in the region," Payne said.

Singapore's relations with regional super power China suffered a rude shock over South China Sea dispute in recent times.

The rift widened after Singapore supported an international arbitration panel's ruling that Chin's claims of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea was not valid, a verdict Beijing refused to accept.