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Cohen's Singapore visit Produces Harbor Promise

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, Jan. 21, 1998 – This tiny island nation at the tip of the Malay Peninsula strengthened its support of the United States Jan. 15 with the announcement it will build a new harbor to accommodate U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships.

Defense Secretary William Cohen described the announcement by Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tony Tan as "a very strong signal ... that Singapore is prepared to encourage the United States to build upon its security relationship (with Southeast Asia)."

Tan made the announcement during a joint press conference at the Ministry of Defense here with Cohen, who is touring the region. Tan said the plan will double the size of the planned Changi naval base, with docking space being built to U.S. specifications. The new base is scheduled to open in two years.

U.S. access to the new naval base will be included in an amendment to the current memorandum of understanding initiated in July 1992. The memorandum originally gave U.S. forces a place to go after they left Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. More than 100 U.S. Navy ships call at Singapore yearly, and U.S. fighter aircraft regularly deploy here.

Singapore was a transit point for U.S. ships, troops and aircraft during the Persian Gulf War. Its Paya Lebar Air Base supported U.S. airlift operations to Somalia.

Singapore was the third stop in Cohen's Far East visit, during which he has met with each head of state and defense minister. He and Tan discussed the memorandum of understanding between the two nations that provides U.S. forces access to facilities in Singapore, particularly Air Force and Navy forces.

Shortly after arriving here, the secretary visited the captain and crew of the guided missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay, then ate lunch with the sailors before departing for the Ministry of Defense. He said the ship's port call here symbolizes the close cooperation between the two countries.

The United States and Singapore "share a strategic vision that can be summarized in four words: partnership, presence, peace and prosperity," Cohen said. "Singapore and the United States maintain a very strong security partnership. U.S. ships and planes frequently operate out of Singapore, and Singapore stations training detachments in the United States. ... Our partnership helps the United States maintain a highly visible military presence in Southeast Asia."

U.S. presence is a fundamental building block for peace and Asian prosperity, the secretary said. "This prosperity has lifted living standards in Asia, increased world trade flows and created new markets for American products." He called the partnership a model of countries working together for their common good and said it illustrates clearly why the United States "intends to remain engaged in Asia and committed to helping the region remain peaceful, stable and secure."

Singapore and U.S. forces also train and exercise together. For example, Singapore Air Force F-16 crews train at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., then participate in joint exercises with the U.S. counterparts. Both its naval and air forces regularly carry out combined exercises under the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training program with a U.S. Navy task group. And the Singapore army has conducted exercises with U.S. Army Pacific units since 1981.

"The Singapore government has been a very steady partner and ally in the sense that when there was a need to help maintain a presence in the region, Singapore was the first country to step forward," Cohen said. "The Singaporean forces gain a great deal from training with the United States, and we also gain from training with the Singaporean military. So it's a mutually beneficial arrangement, and we're quite satisfied."

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