SINGAPORE - In this region where subtlety is an art and even shades of meaning have their own varied shadows of understanding, Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen’s words struck like hammer blows.
During his May 14 kickoff speech here at the International Maritime and Defense Exhibition (Imdex) Asia 2013, Ng noted that 50 navies and maritime enforcement agencies around the world would be participating in the event.
“Many ships will also take part in the warship display, including the USS Freedom, the United States Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship, as part of its maiden deployment to the region.”
Taken at face value, Ng’s words seem convey a simple welcome message. But the fact is that the Freedom is the only ship the defense minister called out by name, and that vessel is the poster-ship for the U.S. military's "Pacific Pivot," or shifting of resources and attention into this part of the world.
Those who know the region say Ng was more than welcoming Freedom; he was also welcoming the U.S.
As might be expected, the U.S. rebalancing of its forces and re-emphasis on the Pacific has China on edge. In a region where tension is always high, nerves just got stretched a little tighter.
But if the U.S. thinks it can just waltz back into the Pacific and everyone else will follow that nation’s lead, then there are surprises in store.
Even Singapore, which appears to be embracing the U.S. and is welcoming the Freedom not only to Imdex but also allowing the ship to forward deploy from that Asian nation’s facilities, wants everyone to know that this is a time for working together, not working one’s will.
“The increasing complexity of threats,” Ng says, “poses new challenges. Sporadic piracy, maritime terrorism, territorial disputes and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are transnational challenges at sea that threaten the stability and security of our maritime commons. These challenges cannot be solved by any one nation, no matter how well-resourced. Instead, countries need to take a more collaborative approach.”
Of course, the message is much simpler than the execution.