China and Singapore on Thursday laid the groundwork for a hotline between the two countries that would establish a high-level communications link between Beijing and a close American partner in Asia at a time when Chinese tensions with Washington are high and dialogue has stalled.
Defence Minister Li Shangfu signed a memorandum of understanding with his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen to work towards establishing a secure telephone link “for high-level communications between our defence leaders,” according to a statement released by Singapore.
“Such high-level open lines of communications are important for strengthening mutual understanding and trust,” the statement said, without giving a timeline for when it would be established.
Li is on his first visit to Singapore as defence minister, and is broadly discussing global and regional security issues with a range of officials.
Singapore said both countries' defence establishments “interact regularly through bilateral and multilateral exercises” and that his visit underscores "long-standing, warm and friendly" relations.
At the same time, Singapore is a close military and economic partner of the United States, and the agreement to establish the direct phone link comes as communications between Beijing and Washington are strained.
While in Singapore, Li is expected to address a meeting of defence officials, diplomats and country leaders on Sunday, but declined a request from Washington to meet on the sidelines with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will give a speech at the same Shangri-La Dialogue security conference on Saturday. (AP)