Singapore Welcomes Stability U.S. Brings to Region
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, Sept. 18, 2000 U.S. military presence is crucial to stability in the Southeast Asian region, said U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Steven Green.
Singapore also wants to see a responsible China emerge and the unrest in Indonesia settled, he said.
Green spoke Sept. 17 to reporters traveling with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. Singapore is one stop on the secretary’s six-nation tour of Asia.
“Regional stability is very important for Singapore,” Green said. Singapore sees the U.S. presence in the region as building stability. Singapore has a “very strong” military and commercial relationship with the United States, he said.
Singapore is the 10th largest purchaser of American products in the world. “That means that Singapore buys more products from the United States than China does,” Green said. About 18,000 Americans live in Singapore and around 1,300 U.S. companies have made Singapore their regional headquarters. The city-state with a population of around 3.8 million has influence in the area far beyond its size, Green said.
“As relates to our military relationship, I don’t think there’s another country in the world that welcomes our presence more and makes more assets available to the United States than does Singapore,” Green said. “Singapore sees the United States and its presence as a stabilizing factor for the region. When we had our issues in the Philippines and left Subic Bay, Singapore made facilities available here for U.S. forces.”
Green said Singapore hosts between 80 and 100 U.S. Navy ship visits per year. Singapore is also finishing construction on the Changi Naval Pier, which will allow U.S. aircraft carriers to dock and receive full services. The Singaporeans are even extending the runway from Changi International Airport out to the dock.
“It will be the only facility where planes can be off- loaded from carriers in this part of the world,” another embassy official said.
The new dock will mean more ship visits for Singapore. “A lot of the [military] logistical issues we deal with are handled out of Singapore,” he said. “The Singaporeans have made a very welcoming environment for our men and women that live here and they’ve made a very welcoming environment for our men and women who visit here.
“As you can imagine probably the greatest nightmare for an ambassador is to have 10,000 young hormones running around the streets of Singapore. But on balance I must say our military men and women behave very well.” Green said many of the sailors and Marines that visit volunteer to help the areas poorer citizens. “Singaporeans need to see that side of Americans,” he said.
The United States has been doing military exercises with Singapore for many years. Most of the exercises, however, have been bilateral. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen would like to see more multilateral exercises in the region. Green said Adm. Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Command, has also suggested more multilateral exercises for the region.
“We are having some conversations now with how those exercises would take place and when and where,” Green said. “Certainly it would help in humanitarian programs.”
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the United States would like more emphasis on regional security structures. “We don’t want to replace the bilateral structures,” he said. “We want to augment them by adding a level of multilateral exercises.”
Bacon said the East Timor crisis in Indonesia is a perfect example of multilateral cooperation. The working relationships the United States forged with Australia and other nations of the region allowed the coalition to work smoothly together. It would also take some of the burden off the U.S. military.
“We’ve always felt that bilateral or multilateral responses are more effective than unilateral responses,” he said.
The Singapore air force flies F-16s -- in fact, Singapore just ordered 20 more F-16s for $1 billion. Because of the lack of training space in Singapore, two squadrons, and attendant refueling aircraft, are based in the United States at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and at Cannon AFB, N.M. Other squadrons are based in Brunei and Australia.
The United States trains more than 1,000 Singaporean service members at any given time. Singapore has compulsory military service, and all healthy men serve for 30 months once they turn 18.
“This makes for a large military for such a small state,” said an embassy official. “They are well-trained and well- equipped. Exercising with them is very useful to both countries.”
The city-state is not a formal ally of the United States. Though it has state-of-the-art naval facilities, no U.S. ships are permanently based here. “Singapore is a facility and not a homeport,” Green said. “We have a naval logistics unit based in Singapore of about 135 service members and some U.S. Air Force personnel stationed here.”
Singapore sees the emergence of a responsible China as an opportunity. Singaporean officials said the relationship between the United States and China and the United States and Japan as two linchpins to regional security.
Singapore’s biggest short-term concern is Indonesia -- the closest Indonesian islands are only 18 miles away “There are 220 million people in Indonesia and half the population is making a dollar a day or less -- 40 million unemployed people," Green said. "If you are Singapore, you have to be very concerned about a hungry neighbor and a neighbor that may be in disarray.”
He said Singapore and the United States would do all they can to help Indonesia make the transformation to a democracy. Part of the problem is one of sovereignty.
“There’s not a lot anyone can do unless (the Indonesians) ask for it,” he said. Still, Singapore has offered help to Indonesia and consults with its neighbors and the United States on conditions there.
But Singapore’s biggest concern is that the United States will not see Southeast Asia as a priority. Officials are worried the United States will get involved in other areas of the world and forget about the region. “I must tell you that Secretary Cohen has made a tremendous difference to our ability to accomplish things out here,” Green said. “He’s proven that that is not the case; that [the United States] is concerned about the region.
“His presence here on a constant basis has been proof of that. It has really made my job easier in dealing with the Singaporeans because they understand and they know by his presence that this is an important area of the world to us.”