Singapore offers tanker aircraft to US for Afghan evacuation as VP Harris holds talks with PM Lee

SingaporeUpdated: Aug 23, 2021, 06:19 PM IST


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The Prime Minister said that the US' intervention in the region 20 years ago has stopped terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a safe base.

Singapore on Monday offered America one of its tanker aircraft to airlift stranded civilians from war-torn Afghanistan, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as he held talks with US Vice President Kamala Harris during which the two countries signed a number of key agreements to enhance cooperation, including in defence and cybersecurity.

Vice President Harris' visit to Singapore is part of a diplomatic charm offensive by the Biden administration in Southeast Asia, a region that is crucial to the future prosperity and security of the United States, amidst China's aggressive actions in the region.

Harris thanked Lee for the "very generous offer" to assist the US in its evacuations from Afghanistan. "We look forward to following up on that discussion," she said.

The A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft of the Singapore Air Force, which attained full operational capability in April, is capable of conducting air-to-air refuelling and airlift roles simultaneously.

It enhances the Singapore Armed Forces' ability to contribute to international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, and peace support operations.
Lee, at a press conference held along with Harris, said that the safety and security of the civilians is on the minds of everyone all over the world, and that he hopes that all sides there can work to ensure this.

The MRTT aircraft of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) can carry up to 266 passengers or 37,000 kgs of cargo, and can be used to evacuate sick or injured personnel.

"I mentioned to Vice President (Harris) that we knew that the US was conducting an evacuation operation of refugees from Afghanistan, and Singapore would like to offer to the US the use of (RSAF's MRTT) aircraft in order to help with the airlift," said Lee.

The US is evacuating Americans from Kabul which fell to the Taliban on August 15.

Lee noted that Singapore is not unfamiliar with the challenges, and that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have deployed personnel there in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISEF).

The ISEF was an international military mission in Afghanistan, established by the United Nations Security Council, to train the Afghan National Security Forces and assist the country in rebuilding key government institutions.

Singapore has sent personnel to Afghanistan because it is a key battlefront in the global fight against extremist terrorism, Lee said, noting that extremist ideas and capabilities have been exported from there to the region here.

The Prime Minister said that the US' intervention in the region 20 years ago has stopped terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a safe base.

"For this, Singapore is grateful. We hope Afghanistan does not become an epicentre for terrorism again," he said.

Meanwhile, the US and Singapore have signed three Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) to expand cooperation on cybersecurity in the public, defence and financial sectors.

The MoUs were signed during the US Vice President's official visit to Singapore, where she is looking to deepen bilateral cooperation in multiple areas, including defence and cybersecurity.

The first MoU was signed by Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) chief executive David Koh and director of the US' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Jen

Easterly. It builds on a similar pact signed in 2016.

This MoU will establish cooperation in areas like regular exchange of information on cyber threats, coordination of response to cybersecurity incidents, and joint cybersecurity training and exercises, the CSA said in a statement.

It also covers mutual guidance on prevailing cybersecurity trends and best practices, joint cooperation in capacity building activities as well as raising cybersecurity awareness among respective constituents.

Koh said Singapore and the US share "deep mutual interests" in improving cybersecurity cooperation, particularly as cybersecurity has become a ?key enabler? for both countries to utilise the benefits of digitalisation to grow their economies and improve lives.

Easterly said the borderless nature of cyber threats makes international collaboration a "key part" of the current US administration's approach to cybersecurity.

"The MoU allows us to strengthen our existing partnership with Singapore so that we can more effectively work together to collectively defend against the threats of today and secure against the risks of tomorrow," she said.

The CSA said the pact will expand into new areas of cooperation, like critical technologies as well as research and development.

Separately, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the US' Department of Defence also signed an MoU on cyberspace cooperation, aimed at institutionalising cyber cooperation between both defence establishments.

Signed on August 20, the pact will improve cooperation in information sharing, ops-to-ops and technical exchanges, as well as collaboration in regional capacity building efforts.

"Such cooperation and engagements are professionally valuable, and help to build mutual understanding, and facilitate info-sharing and collaboration between trusted partners in capacity-building efforts," MINDEF said in a statement.

The MoU concerning cooperation in cyberspace was signed by Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command Admiral John Aquilino and Commander of the US Cyber Command General Paul Nakasone.

A third MoU on cybersecurity cooperation was signed between Singapore's Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the US' Department of the Treasury, aimed at maintaining and strengthening bilateral institutional ties.

The agreement, signed on August 11, will cover information sharing related to the financial sector. This includes cybersecurity regulations and guidance, cybersecurity incidents, and cybersecurity threat intelligence.

There will also be staff training and study visits, as well as competency-building activities including the conduct of cross-border cybersecurity exercises, the MAS said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the US and Singapore have agreed to a partnership to better collaborate on climate action, environmental governance, sustainable development and low-carbon solutions.

The US-Singapore Climate Partnership will "create opportunities for businesses and workers" in green growth sectors, including in energy transitions, clean energy infrastructure development, sustainable transport, sustainable finance and quality carbon credits markets, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

Climate change is one area in which Harris is looking to deepen bilateral cooperation, senior US administration officials had earlier said. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity, defence and digital trade are the others.

In February, Singapore unveiled the Green Plan 2030, a "whole of nation movement" to advance sustainable development. One area of focus is growing the green economy to create new jobs, transform industries and use sustainability as a competitive advantage.

The MTI called climate change a "critical global challenge" and a top priority for Singapore and the US, saying that sustainability and economic growth can go "hand in hand".

"Both countries support global efforts to address this key challenge and are fully committed to implementing our commitments under the Paris Agreement and taking bold climate actions.
"By mainstreaming sustainability into the global economy, we can work together towards greater benefits and opportunities for Singapore, the US and the region," it said.

Potential areas of cooperation under the partnership include sustainable finance, energy transitions and quality carbon credit markets.

Sustainable finance includes the use of private capital for sustainable infrastructure and environmental risk management in the financial sector, while energy transitions include sustainable transport.

The partnership could also involve expert consultations on the setting of green standards and the management of environmental financial risks.

"Both countries will continue to explore opportunities to strengthen our collaboration in more areas of climate change and the green economy, in line with our mutual interests," the MTI said.
Singapore and the US will also launch two new programmes next year on helping cities become more sustainable through the lowering of emissions.

The programmes will improve knowledge sharing and collaboration between Singapore, US and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members through the ASEAN Smart

Cities Network, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement.

"Upscaling green digital solutions will also maximise the benefits of technology from the digital revolution," the ministry added.