Kuala Lumpur - The newly-concluded Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) reflects the Singapore Government's "conviction that a US presence in the region is of vital importance", said Singapore's The Straits Times in an editorial. However, a Malaysian academic argues that the SFA will change the face of regional security in Southeast Asia.
The SFA, which recognises Singapore as Washington's "major security cooperation partner", calls for expanding the scope of bilateral cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism and joint military exercises and training.
In his commentary published in Utusan Malaysia, Associate Professor Dr Azmi Hassan described Singapore as having a defence arrangement with the US that is "more interesting" than what the US currently has with its “non-Nato allies”, Thailand and the Philippines.
"There is no doubt that the SFA between Singapore and Washington will change the face of regional security in Southeast Asia in the same way that the defence agreement between Washington and New Delhi will impact on South Asia," said Dr Azmi, director of the Centre of Technology and International Studies at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
For example, Dr Azmi added, there is speculation that the US no longer considers the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) to be relevant since Washington already has an SFA with Singapore and the Philippines and Thailand as its non-Nato allies in the region.
Washington also feels that the ARF can no longer serve as an effective mechanism to ensure Southeast Asia's stability, he added.
"An initial indication of Washington's strategy to downgrade the ARF's role can be seen from the US decision to send only its Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, to the ARF that will be held in Vientianne, Laos, on July 18-29," Dr Azmi said.
"There are also signs to suggest that Washington is trying to put together a new defence alliance for Southeast Asia since it does not have an all-encompassing regional defence structure like those that exist in North America and Europe. The SFA is only the first step in a journey aimed at restoring US influence in theSoutheast Asia," he concluded.
* SFA a sign of US' deepening influence in Southeast Asia (Utusan Malaysia, July 16)
* US-Singapore partnership (The Straits Times, July 18)