Singapore, Australia to jointly develop military training areas

By Reuters/Ian Chua   May 6, 2016 | 04:48 pm GMT+7
Singapore, Australia to jointly develop military training areas
Soldiers from the Singapore Guards (L) and the 7th Australian Regiment clear a room during a dry run of an urban-based exercise at the Urban Operations Training Facility in Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Rockhampton, Australia November 9, 2014. The Straits Times/Mark Cheong

Australia and Singapore will jointly develop military training areas and facilities in Australia, the city-state's foreign ministry said, as part of a deal that expands defence cooperation between the two countries and improves economic ties.

Reuters reported earlier Singapore will fund a A$2.25 billion (US$1.7 billion) expansion of military training facilities in Australia, according to a government source.

Land-scarce Singapore has long sent troops to Australia for military exercises. The new deal would allow the Asian nation to increase the number of troops it has on rotation in Australia to 14,000, from 6,000.

Under the agreement, Singapore would fund the cost of expanding the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and the Townsville Field Training Area, both in the north of Queensland state.

Both bases lie in electorates critical to the government. The timing of the agreement is viewed as a political coup for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ahead of an anticipated July federal election.

Singapore will have enhanced and expanded military training access in Australia over a period of 25 years, the city-state's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The two countries will enhance military personnel exchanges and initiate civilian personnel exchanges. They will also strengthen intelligence and information sharing, such as in counter-terrorism, the MFA statement said.

The move to forge closer military ties between Australia and Singapore comes at a time of rising tensions between much of Asia and China, which has been building military and civilian facilities on its artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.

The region is also facing rising risks from Islamic extremists. Earlier this week, Singapore said it had detained eight Bangladeshi men who were planning attacks in their homeland. It deported five others who were arrested by police in Bangladesh.

The city-state and Australia also updated a free trade agreement, which includes improved access for businesses to bid for government procurement contracts and allowed for easier movement of people between the two markets.

Singapore currently ranks as Australia's fifth largest trading and investment partner.