Singapore ’s new defence pact with the United States – allowing it to set up a fighter jet training detachment in Guam – is a nod to deepening military ties between the countries, experts said, adding that it was the city state’s way of assuring Washington of its loyalty despite boosting cooperation with Beijing. Singapore has “always been a close friend” of the US, said Faizal Abdul Rahman, a research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, citing its contribution to US-led operations in Afghanistan and the global coalition against the Islamic State (Isis) militant group. “This is just a continuation of that strategic and operational partnership,” he said, adding that it also made “logical sense” that Guam was chosen, since Singapore purchases and uses American military technology. Singapore renews military bases pact with US Singapore’s defence minister Ng Eng Hen and his American counterpart Mark Esper had on December 7 inked an agreement allowing the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to deploy assets such as its F-15SG and F-16 fighter aircraft to the Andersen Air Force Base. The pact followed closely on the heels of a 1990 agreement between the US and Singapore, which grants American forces access to the city state’s naval and airbases. “The vast training airspace in Guam will allow the RSAF to conduct realistic training, to hone their capabilities and readiness,” said Singapore’s defence ministry in a statement. These detachments allow for the “quick redeployment of assets” to the island nation when required, and serves its needs to maintain “operational readiness” for Singapore’s air defence, MINDEF added. Located in the Western Pacific, Guam would create opportunities for more realistic training in a maritime environment, said Brian Harding, a former Pentagon official who managed defence relations with Singapore during the Obama administration. No country in Southeast Asia does more than Singapore to enable a US-forward presence in the Indo-Pacific John C. Rood, US undersecretary of defence for policy “Singapore’s geography means it needs overseas locations to train and the US has been more than happy over the years to facilitate access to US training ranges to help facilitate these sales and deepen bilateral ties,” said Harding, who is now deputy director of the Southeast Asia Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. John C. Rood, US undersecretary of defence for policy, last week told a Senate committee that Washington was looking to strengthen its military relationship with a number of countries in the region. “No country in Southeast Asia does more than Singapore to enable a US-forward presence in the Indo-Pacific,” Rood said, adding that more than 100 American warships and 800 to 1,000 US military aircraft transit through the Lion City each year. US warships in Asia to be armed with radar-evading precision missiles Washington now sees the Indo-Pacific as a “priority theatre” because of growing military competition with China , Defence Secretary Mark Esper said at the seventh Reagan National Defence Forum. He said he was looking at redeploying troops from Afghanistan and other areas to “compete with the Chinese, to reassure our allies and to conduct exercises and training”. Esper and Singapore’s Ng signed the pact on the sidelines of the forum in Simi Valley, California. Guam would be Singapore’s seventh overseas unit. It has two detachments in both Arizona and Australia, and one each in Idaho and France. Collin Koh, a research fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, said there were multiple reasons for the new pact. He said Guam provided a “very convenient midpoint” for flights from Singapore to the US, and such “stopovers” would be useful for technical reasons as well as training opportunities. Harding said he believed the agreement would “certainly raise eyebrows in Beijing” but Koh pointed out that the island nation in October signed an updated defence agreement with China, which would scale up bilateral military exercises and dialogues with the People’s Liberation Army. He said the Guam agreement was “assurance” on Singapore’s part to the US. “Singapore wants to demonstrate that it continues to support the existing US security commitment to the region … and signal a commitment to the bilateral relationship,” said the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies research fellow. China, friend or foe to Singapore? How Lee Kuan Yew made it both But at the same time, the China agreement allows Singapore to assuage Chinese leaders that it was not part of an “anti-China containment scheme led by the US”, Koh said. Faizal of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said while Singapore needed to ensure a US presence in the region, it was also in its long-term interests for the island nation to build its economic strength by capitalising on the significant Chinese market. Koh added that while China had long viewed Singapore’s close ties with Washington with some degree of wariness, “the existing discourse in China is that there is no way to reverse that long-standing defence and security relationship between the US and Singapore”. “What China is trying to do is to encourage Singapore to scale up defence engagements with Beijing instead,” he said.