China and Singapore’s defence ministers on Thursday said joint military exercises suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic were set to resume, and pledged to deepen defence ties in their first face-to-face meeting since 2019. Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen held talks at the inaugural Singapore-China Defence Ministers’ Dialogue, where they discussed global security issues, a statement from the city’s defence ministry said. The two defence ministers also shared their respective views on bolstering defence exchanges between China and Asean , the statement said. Singapore, which has deep strategic ties with the United States, has maintained strong defence ties with China , insisting that regional countries should not be pressured into taking sides in the superpower rivalry. Singapore’s Lee warns against nuclear ‘arms race’ in Asia, isolating China Ng, a veteran of Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), greeted Wei with an embrace at the city state’s Ministry of Defence headquarters. The two ministers last met three years ago, when Ng visited Beijing. The dialogue on Thursday was part of an enhanced Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation that both ministers signed in October 2019. As part of that pact, both sides pledged to formalise joint activities between the two militaries and called for defence cooperation to be “stepped up significantly” and to also include the establishment of a Visiting Forces Agreement for troops taking part in bilateral exercises, a mutual logistics support arrangement and a bilateral hotline. On Thursday, they also signed two agreements to cooperate in military education and academic exchanges. One of the pacts will facilitate the cross-attendance of courses by officials from the Singapore Armed Forces and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). “General Wei’s visit underscores the long-standing, warm and friendly bilateral defence relations between Singapore and China that has deepened and grown over the years,” Singapore’s defence ministry said. Dylan Loh, an assistant professor in foreign policy at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said Thursday’s developments were a “natural progression” of warming defence ties between China and Singapore . It is significant, he suggested, as Singapore has deepened its diplomatic and military ties with Washington even during the pandemic. “It serves as a timely signal that Singapore’s defence cooperation is not and should not be viewed in zero-sum terms,” he said. China’s Ukraine stance raises awkward questions on territorial integrity, Singapore PM says Chong Ja Ian, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said the city state generally had an interest in reaching out to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Likewise, the PLA had been keen to engage with the Singapore military as well as others in Southeast Asia. In previous years, bilateral military exercises and exchanges have been more limited in size and scope, he said. “The question that was raised then, and will continue to be raised, is the level of exposure that both sides would have to each other’s doctrine and equipment, bearing in mind that Singapore uses a significant amount of Nato-standard US and European equipment,” he said. Given that Singapore uses equipment that is also used by other militaries, including the US and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, the PLA could potentially learn about how these systems are used, added Chong. Wei had arrived in Singapore on Wednesday ahead of the Shangri-La Dialogue , a security summit organised by London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies. US-China fireworks, Kishida speech: key facts on the Shangri-La Dialogue The Chinese defence chief is expected to deliver a speech on Sunday on China’s vision for the region, and is expected to hold talks with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at the sidelines of the conference. “We expect, from our perspective, the substance of that meeting to be focused on managing competition in regional and global issues,” a senior US official was quoted as saying by Reuters. Issues including Taiwan, the Ukraine crisis and the South China Sea are likely to be discussed at the Shangri-La Dialogue – which is resuming this year after a two-year pause due to the pandemic. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the meeting in a virtual session, organisers said on Thursday.