The first joint military drills between China and Singapore since 2021 will take place this week as Beijing strengthens its defence and security ties with Southeast Asia, a region where the United States already has significant partnerships.
The Chinese defence ministry announced on its website on Monday that the Chinese navy will send a mine-hunting ship, the Chibi, and a missile-bearing frigate, the Yulin, to the combined maritime exercise, which will take place from late April to early May.
Following the upgrade of a bilateral defence agreement in 2019 to allow larger-scale drills among their armies, navy and air forces, China and Singapore conducted a joint military exercise in international waters at the southern tip of the South China Sea two years ago.
Deeper military ties between China and Singapore come at a time of rising hostilities in the South China Sea, which spans 3.5 million square kilometres (1.4 million square miles) and is frequently travelled by Western fleets, including U.S. ships engaged in freedom of navigation operations. Such clauses irritate China, which asserts sovereignty over almost the entirety of the South China Sea despite a global court judgment to the contrary.
The United States military and Indonesia participated in an enlarged Super Garuda Shield exercise in August of last year, which included Singapore, Japan, and Australia for the first time.
Falcon Strike 2022 joint air force exercises saw China send fighter-bombers to Thailand at about the same time. The exercises, which are taking place in northeast Thailand close to the border with Laos, were protective in nature.
The drills last summer also occurred against the backdrop of heightened hostilities in the Taiwan Strait following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, a democratically run island that China claims as its own.
The influence that the United States has shaped with nations like Singapore and Indonesia in the next years is projected to be challenged by China’s rising military presence in Southeast Asia.