Singapore is careful not to take sides in disputes between China and the United States. But the Southeast Asian nation’s long-standing defence agreement with Washington that has just been extended for a further 15 years to 2035 shows a military preference. Singaporean officials contend that allowing American forces to use the island’s air and naval bases provides a vital presence for regional peace, stability and prosperity. US President Donald Trump’s tough and unpredictable stance towards Beijing adds another dimension, though, one that if not kept in check, could too easily lead to armed conflict between the two powers. The pact entrenches the US military in the region, which cannot please Beijing, although is welcomed by Australia and other American allies. Some Southeast Asian nations, particularly those with territorial disputes with China, perceive the US presence as a balance to the rapidly modernising and expanding Chinese navy and air force. But the agreement also gives the US navy easy access to the disputed waters of the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, which put it in direct conflict with the vessels of its Chinese counterpart. Trump has no qualms about using his country’s warships to make political and military statements to provoke Beijing, which is not in Singapore’s interests. China is perceived by the Trump administration as a threat to American global dominance. Its trade war has been extended to curtailing Chinese technological development, stunting its economic rise and containing it militarily. The bases in Singapore are an ideal springboard for surveillance, defence operations and military exercises. But Singapore has also been deepening defence cooperation with China and there are plans for stepped-up military exercises including navy drills. Singapore has good overall relations with China and the US. Ensuring neutrality given the pressures from Washington and being a Chinese-majority country is challenging. It cannot be denied that the bases deal has ensured regional stability. But the American military presence and Trump’s provocative approach towards Beijing create risks that the island nation has to be ever-alert to and diplomatically ready to deal with.