Five Power Defence Arrangements Meeting, Singapore

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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dpm.media@defence.gov.au

02 6277 7800

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31 May 2024

Joint press conference, Singapore

SUBJECTS: Five Power Defence Arrangements meeting; US elections; AUKUS

SPEAKER: Welcome to the 12th FPDA ministers joint press conference. To begin the press conference proceedings, the FPDA will take this opportunity to launch its official website. The website is a (Inaudible) by the FPDA headquarters team and all five FPDA member nations. It is intended to create an authoritative source for the public to learn about the FPDA and its history. It is also [indistinct] increasing the transparency of the FPDA as a defensive, multilateral arrangement that will bring trust and confidence to the region. 

We will now play a video to launch the FPDA website. 

[Video plays]

SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen, the website is now live, and can be accessed at fivepowersdefencearrangements.org. I’m sure many will find the website to be a useful resource. Okay, now moving on to the press conference, we invite the representative members from FPDA member nations (Inaudible)

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE OF SINGAPORE, NG ENG HEN: Ladies and gentlemen from the press, welcome to the FPDA press conference. I’m delighted to be able to host this (indistinct) Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Marles, Minister Collins as well as representative from the UK, the Director‑General Wyatt. And Your Excellencies who are also here and Chief of Defence Forces. I’ll just take the prerogative as host to say the briefest of remarks and then allow my co-panellists to come forth. It’s been a very successful 12th panel at the FPDA event. We’ve made significant process. I myself am gratified that we came to agreement on many areas which subsequently me co-ministers will talk about. But I want to put on record that the FPDA, having launched this website, is alive and well, now 53 years old, the grandmother of multilateralism. If you can cast your mind back to 1971, many things didn’t exist, but the FPDA was formed, and it still remains relevant today. And we tried to make it even more relevant for the future. It is reassuring for the government and the peoples of Malaysia and Singapore and I think our neighbours. So with that I will pass the mic over to Khaled Bin Nordin.

MINISTER OF DEFENCE OF MALAYSIA, KHALED BIN NORDIN: Thank you Eng. Again, I would like to thank Singapore and all the member countries for making these meetings successful. What I can see from the meeting is that we witnessed the cohesion between member nations as we focus on the future direction of FPDA as our common purpose. The views, deliberation and opinion provided during the meeting were all already very (indistinct), reflecting our determination to make the FPDA relevant and resilient to the shifting geopolitical landscape. I am convinced that the FPDA will continue to live on. All of us are committed to work closely to address challenges through the continuous building of capacity, (Inaudible) process and efficient military platform. In completion, I would like to say and reaffirm Malaysia‘s commitment to the FPDA and look forward to having the next meeting in Kuala Lumpur in three years’ time.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA, RICHARD MARLES: Well, thank you. And can I begin by thanking Minister Ng and Minister Khaled for co-hosting today’s meeting. It has been a very successful FPDA Defence Ministers meeting. In 2024 the world obviously looks very different to what it did in 1971. But what we have in this grouping of five countries is a high degree of trust, a high degree of friendship, a high degree of strategic alignment and a deep desire to continue to work together. And the fact that we are in the construct of the FPDA feels as relevant today going forward as it ever has. And that is reflected in the discussions that we had today, which were centred on making sure that we build increasing ambition into the agenda of the FPDA. You can see that in terms of the exercises that are being planned – exercises that are more complex, more broad, more deep. And we are really excited about that. This is a profoundly important mini lateral for Australia. And I think if you were to ask all of the nations that are here, our national interests are all about contributing to the collective security of our region in a world which has a lot going on. And in doing that, clearly, the cornerstone of collective security in this part of the world is ASEAN centrality- we all absolutely see that. But mini laterals can play their part, and this one certainly does, having been around for 53 years. So as we work together, as we expand the scope of our exercises, we feel very much that in furthering our own national interests what we are doing is making a really important contribution to the collective security of this region. And that remains at the centre of the mission of the FPDA. 

MINISTER OF DEFENCE OF NEW ZEALAND, JUDITH COLLINS: Well, thank you. It’s a great pleasure to represent New Zealand at this Five Power Defence Arrangements meeting. I believe this is a very important part of our arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region. And as has been noted, the geopolitical situation in the world is not becoming less tense but, in fact, more tense. And it is important that we have operable, particularly those of us that are smaller powers, that we are actually able to work intraoperatively with our allies and friends. And that is why we welcome the opportunity to contribute to and be part of the exercises that have been and are now planned. We believe very firmly that it is important that we work together, and whether it’s in security situations looking at new innovations as well but also humanitarian assistance, which we are becoming increasingly in need of providing, particularly in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region and particularly the Pacific and our Pacific Island nations who are our neighbours. So thank you for that opportunity. I’d like to thank Singapore and Dr [indistinct] but also to thank Malaysia for co-hosting as well. It has been a very good meeting, or series of meetings this morning. And I feel that we’ve been able to gain quite a lot of insight. 

U.K. MINISTRY OF DEFENCE DIRECTOR GENERAL SECURITY POLICY, PAUL WYATT: I say thank you very much. So as you’ve heard from others, it was a very positive meeting with a very strong spirit of partnership and cooperation that came through. The UK was pleased to be able to emphasise our continued firm commitment to the Five Power Defence Arrangements and to the value we believe they bring in the current security context. As you’ve heard, we reflected on the long history of the Five Power Defence Arrangements as well as talked of our shared ambition for the future and, in particular, we were able to support the FPDA blueprint for further exercises and activities which provides a path for us speaking about modern challenges and the integration of modern capabilities. It was a positive engagement and gives us a real platform for continuing to work together for our collective security.

And I should echo again the thanks that others have registered both to our colleagues from Malaysia and from Singapore for their hosting of the meeting. 

NG: Our view is one specific point and then we will open up the press conference to questions. And this was in regard to the meat of the FPDA, which is really our exercises, military exercises. We call them the Bersama Lima Shield or the main exercise. And we agreed as part of the stocktake in moving forward to be relevant two aspects; one conventional, and the agreement was to include more high-end war-fighting capabilities, conventional capabilities and I will leave my colleagues to elaborate. And secondly in the area of non‑conventional, I’ll ask Khaled and DPM Marles to give his comments.

NORDIN: Yeah, on non-conventional we discussed and deliberated on the need for us to [indistinct] in areas such as counterterrorism, maritime security, humanitarian [indistinct] as well as disaster relief. So this will be the new areas that we will look into apart from the traditional threat. 

MARLES: Thank you Eng Hen. Perhaps to start there we spoke earlier about a broadening of the way in which we are engaging in exercises and non-conventional is a really important part of that. So thinking about non-traditional threats, counterterrorism is part of what we are engaging in, in terms of the exercises that we’re doing with maritime disaster relief but also looking through areas such as cyber and drones. So, there is a broadening of the exercises that we are doing. In the conventional space, though, we are increasing the assets that we are bringing to bear in exercises. At the Bersama Lima later this year for the first time Australia will be contributing F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to that exercise, and that will be the first time we’ll have a fifth-generation aircraft participating in Bersama Lima. It’s an example of what we are trying to do in terms of increasing the complexity of these exercises and the high-end nature of them. But actually it’s entirely consistent with the history of FPDA. When you look right back to 1971 through to now, there has been an evolution, as you would expect, in the kind of exercises that have been undertaken with more complex assets being brought to bear. And this is an important example of how that continues. So we’re really looking forward to this year’s Bersama Lima and the participation of the Joint Strike Fighters in that. And we look forward to Bersama Lima going forward to be even more high end and more complex. 

SPEAKER: Minister Collins. 

JULIE COLLINS: Yes, thank you. So New Zealand is very happy to be part of the exercise of Bersama Lima, and we will be contributing to that exercise, including the option of the first deployment of the P-8 Poseidon to Singapore for that operation. And I think it will be a great opportunity for us to work together. 

NG: Just to repeat, just P-8 is what Minister Collins said. From the UK, Wyatt. 

WYATT: So like others, we discussed the opportunities that were kind of coming up into the future. And from a UK perspective obviously you’ll be aware we’re already planning a carrier deployment into the region in 2025, Operation High Mast. And we’re able to discuss thinking about the opportunities that we’d have to look at cooperation and interoperability with that group and the FPDA exercise program. So we’ll be discussing how we can incorporate those plans as we work together into the future. 

NG: For avoidance of doubt so there’s no ambiguity. We are referring to a carrier, not to air-conditioning. So just wanted to make that clear. Carry on if there are no more comments from my fellow ministers, we will leave the press to ask their questions. Go ahead. 

JOURNALIST: Hi, this is Josh from (Inaudible) News. I just have a question about Trump. I was wondering like, having a complex in the White House, will it undermine US authority abroad especially when these partners are trying to shore up its differences? Thank you. 

NG: Who do you want that question directed to? 

JOURNALIST: Ideally everyone. 

MARLES: Thank you. Thank you deeply for that question. My answer to your question is going to be very unsurprising – I tend to say as little as I can. Look, these are processes that play out in the United States, and I’m not going to speculate about them or, indeed, what happens in the US in November. It really is a matter for the American people. I think the point really to make, there is a lot going on in the world, as I said. The rules-based order is being put under increased pressure. And I think when you look at America’s contribution to maintaining the rules-based order, it has obviously been exemplary. We greatly appreciate the role that the US plays in respect of that. And I fully anticipate that whatever plays out in the US elections at the end of this year that will continue to be the case going forward. But it’s also clear to us that, you know, this is a time when it’s really important that friends are working closer and closer together. And what you’ve got is an example of that right in front of you. I mean, the reason we want to breathe increasing relevance into the FPDA is precisely because of the opportunity of five countries which have shared strategic alignment, who have deep history, a familiarity and an excellent trust, that these are the relationships that we need to be investing in at the moment to maintain our security. So, I mean, I think I am confident that America will continue to play its role no matter what happens at the end of this year. We’re very grateful for the role that it plays. And in addition to that, we are very focused as a nation on building our relationships within our region and around the world, and the FPDA is a perfect example of that. 

NG: Any other comments? 

JULIE COLLINS: I just want to say that I completely agree with my Australian colleague. A very sensible answer to a question which, frankly, is not really what we’re talking about today. 

NG: I just wanted to make one point: your premise was that Trump undermines America’s relationships with partners. That was your assertion. I mean, I just want to put on record that’s not, in our case, specifically for Singapore. It was during the Trump presidency that Prime Minister Lee and President Trump renewed our Memorandum of Understanding for a US presence of ships and planes in Singapore and maintained a defence relationship. So let me put that on the record. 

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

NG: A bit louder. 

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]. So I wanted to understand what sort of threats are very much alive today that the FPDA (Inaudible) to guard against? And secondly, you know, because there is now a focus on [indistinct], could you also comment on threats are we responding to? Are there any recent events that triggered (Inaudible)?

NORDIN: Well, I think threats are encountered. Whatever (Inaudible) see that what is happening elsewhere, especially in the Middle East, we have a new phenomena in the sense that threats may not come from conventional process. Although we may not be able to come up with the correct solution, but it does not mean that we should not (Inaudible). So maybe to this arrangement, the FPDA, we can start to discuss and see how every country tries to address these challenges and issues. And maybe we can [indistinct] through that. And it will take years, of course, like what we have achieved today. It will take many years at the end of the day to become (Inaudible) in countering this kind of threat. So that’s my view on this matter. We need to start somewhere. 

MARLES: I think the point I’d want to make in response to that question is that what’s really unique about this gathering, is the enduring nature of it, the age of it. So 1971 the FPDA was established in response to a series of events. But in 2024 the FPDA is not – its existence is not about the response to a particular threat out there; what it is, is about the desire 50 years on in a very different world for these countries to work together for the collective security of our region and to support each other’s national interests. Now, in that sense we can all see what is happening in the world in terms of the way in which the rules-based order is being placed under pressure, as I described earlier, by events in other parts of the world. And, indeed, terrorism remains a feature of the world that we live in today. But I think what you should read out of the decisions that we’ve made is we are not gathering today to respond to something; we are gathering because this is a commitment of five countries to continue to work together. And we’ll be gathering decades from now in very different circumstances. What we are seeking to do is to build our capability, our joint capability, and we do that through a much greater degree of complexity in the exercises that we undertake and the coordination that we seek to bring to bear. And one of the three Rs in our charter which underpins us is relevance. In seeking to be relevant in the modern world, the sorts of things that we’ve spoken about today are the ways in which we see our capability to maintain that relevance. 

NG: Just one comment: memories are short, and we forget the threat, the real threat, that incurs (Inaudible) geopolitical changes less than a decade ago. Operators from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, we were based in Syria in the Middle East. We declared targets in this region. And I want to put on record our thanks to the UK, to Australia and New Zealand intelligence that helped us monitor those terrorist elements and in some instances mitigate them. Without their help I am quite certain that we will have real physical disasters in our region. So, it’s not as if it’s a new collaboration; it was done under the FPDA- it’s the kind of talks about that. And all of us are on the same page that the threat of terrorism remains real and present. 

JOURNALIST: Hi, (Inaudible). So my question is a follow-up from my colleague. I want to know more from your discussions what are the future challenges or future threats that are being anticipated? And is there a possibility that in the future that these arrangements involves other nations as well in which we would have more expertise in a particular area? So I just want to know a bit more about the future plans more specific to (Inaudible) and the future threats that are anticipated? 

NG: Sorry, before I direct the question, it’s a bit confusing. You are talking about threats and then talking about (Inaudible)?

JOURNALIST: Yeah, so, again, my question is: what are the future threats that are being anticipated based on your discussions? And is there a possibility in the future that other members, other nations, joining in exercises in which they may have expertise in dealing with a particular threat? 

NG: Richard, future threats, future members?

NORDIN: We did not go really into detail but on the the working group can take it up and present to us in the meeting at the other level. 

NG: You’re referring to future members? 

NORDIN: No, future members - it depends on capacity building. If there a need for us to cooperate, collaborate, it depends on the need to for exercises for sharing of knowledge. But the FPDA remains the five members. 

MARLES: Yeah, so perhaps to start where Khaled finished, the FPDA, it will continue to be the five members. But the way in which we go about our work is to contribute to a sense of reassurance – another of the Rs which underpins what we do. Reassurance for the region about what we’re about. And so there is a high degree of transparency around the exercises that we do and an invitation for other in the region to observe those, because we are trying to create reassurance in the exercises that we undertake. But to go to the first part of your question in relation to threats, I would probably recast it a little bit in the light of what I’ve been saying. The maintenance of the rules-based order is what is the shared interest of all the countries that are here. The maintenance of the rules-based order has been placed under pressure. And we seek to be able through our work to contribute to the maintenance of the global rules-based order going forward. You know, ideas around how freedom of navigation, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, all of those aspects of the global rules-based order are profoundly important for all of us. And in doing that what we then contribute to is the collective security of this region. And I think what you can see here is a genuine belief that through the existence of the FPDA, through the significance of the five of us standing before you now – sitting before now you, through the exercises that we do, what we are contributing to is a sense of the collective security of the region beyond the five countries which are in front of you now. And that’s really what we’re seeking to try and achieve. 

NG: To answer your question specifically, the expansion of FPDA was not an item on the agenda. And that’s an obviously reason: because the FPDA was constructed in a special agreement in five governments, and we don’t have the remit to consider expanding it. However, over the past, I think, decade, we have invited observers, Indonesia being one of them, to observe our exercises, including the defence attaches of other ASEAN countries. 

JOURNALIST: Hi, Tom from Reuters. I’d just like to ask, has China expressed any concerns about increased Five Power exercises in the region, particularly in the South China Sea? 

NG: Not to me. I’m not sure what the rest – not to Singapore, anyway. Has China expressed any- 

COLLINS: I wouldn’t expect them to.

MARLES: I suppose the only point to make there is not to us, and I think that’s the answer across the table. But obviously this is not about China in the sense that the FPDA has been around for 53 years. What defines the FPDA and the five countries that you’ve got in front of you, and it really is about our desire to work closely together. 

WYATT: I think the only other observation I’d make is that we perhaps introduced an additional R in our conversations today – to reminisce. And we reflected on the fact that, you know, if we think about the history of FPDA exercises, that goes back to, you know in the 90s when we had, you know, maybe 200 aircraft kind of flying and much larger scale exercises. So we’re going to continue to adapt, to modernise and to introduce new capabilities. But this is a message of continuity, not a message of expansion. 

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) traditional trends and in terms of committing FPDA – 

NG: Sorry, where are you from? 

JOURNALIST: Sorry, (Inaudible). We’ve heard quite a bit just now on the conventional threats (Inaudible)- carrier strike groups for exercises. Can we have a bit more on the non-conventional threats in terms of drugs, terrorism cybersecurity, climate change thereabouts? What are the member states doing to commit in terms of joint exercises in the future? 

SPEAKER: We have that to staff levels in terms of the construct of exercises now days. One particular feature about the FPDA which is unique, it has a standing HQ. HQ [indistinct] – and you can direct questions to him – is subsequently stood up, plans and coordinates exercises in Butterworth and Malaysia, has got 40-odd staff. So when we – when the ministers give directions along those lines, it’s specifically what the scenarios are. It’s really much staff work. There’s an assessment of threats. But there’s one particular element that will be the introduction of non-conventional will include drones and unmanned aircraft within our exercises. 

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). My question is for Minister Collins. So I was just wonder if the New Zealand government is anywhere closer to making a position on joining the AUKUS pillar II, and what are some of the factors at the moment? 

COLLINS: Well, thank you. So we have expressed a desire to know and learn more about AUKUS pillar II and what opportunities there might be for New Zealand to contribute to that. That is, of course, the non-nuclear primarily technical side or the technology side of AUKUS pillar II. We believe that AUKUS is actually a good addition to regional security, but we certainly could not be part of AUKUS pillar I because it’s not simply within our remit or our law. But we haven’t made any decisions on whether or not we would join that. We’ve had no actual invitation to join it. But it is something that we are certainly looking at. Those are decisions that are made by our cabinet in the fullness of time and with the full information. We always have to look to our national interests. Obviously it’s very difficult to have any security unless you actually – or any financial security without actual security as well. So, we remain, as the previous Labor government, gone now, were, always interested to learn more and to see if there’s something that we can contribute and is in our best interests. 

MARLES: Perhaps I should say, as people know, AUKUS is not an alliance; it’s a technology-sharing arrangement, even in relation to the conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines. But pillar II is about Australia, the UK and the US working more closely together on advanced technologies. And at the Defence Ministers levels amongst our three countries we have said that in principle as we walk further down this track we could imagine AUKUS pillar II being opened up to other countries. And there are a number of that have expressed an interest in what we’re doing. Our focus right now, though, is on seeing that we are between the three of us, you know, actually collaborating as much as possible on those advanced technologies. If you like, we’re getting runs on the board. And so I think in time we do imagine that AUKUS pillar II opens up. Right now the focus is on making sure that the three countries are working as closely together as possible in respect of those advanced technologies that we are beginning that work on. And we’ve noted inquiries that have been made by New Zealand and by others, and we’ll look at that going forward.

ENDS

 

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