Mr Lee said ASEAN countries have a common position on the South China Sea but have different national perspectives.

While Singapore does not have claims in the disputed waters, it has an interest in freedom of navigation and the application of international law because the South China Sea is a “vital artery for international trade”, he added.

Mr Albanese said Australia is a strong supporter of the law of the sea and has asserted that freedom of navigation through the South China Sea is important.

“Our position on China remains very consistent which is that we want to cooperate where we can, we’ll disagree where we must, but we will always engage in our national interest,” he said.

FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

Mr Lee and Mr Albanese also responded to a question on whether China should be allowed to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) given the country’s trade restrictions on some Australian products.

The CPTPP is a free trade agreement that primarily involves 11 countries including Singapore and Australia. In July 2023, the UK became the 12th member and the first non-founding country to join the trade pact.

Both prime ministers pointed out that there needs to be a consensus between all parties before any country can join the partnership.

“Any economy which is seeking to join the agreement must demonstrate it can meet, implement and adhere to the rules and standards of the agreement. And so that is the context in which any application would be considered,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Lee reiterated that the CPTPP is an open trade organisation. 

“It is meant to allow accession of new members and we therefore welcome China to apply and join, provided it meets the standards and requirements of the CPTPP,” he said.

SINGAPORE-AUSTRALIA RELATIONS

The two leaders earlier held a meeting where they reaffirmed the “excellent” state of bilateral relations, said Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a press statement. 

They also noted the good progress in bilateral cooperation across all six pillars of the Singapore-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), namely Economics and Trade, Defence and Foreign Affairs, Science and Innovation, People-to-People, Digital Economy and Green Economy. 

The defence cooperation between Singapore and Australia is a significant part of the CSP, Mr Lee said at the press conference, noting that the Singapore Armed Forces conducts training at Shoalwater Bay in Queensland. 

“We deeply appreciate our training area at Shoalwater Bay and we are grateful that we are working with Australia to develop a new training area at Greenvale, also in Queensland. It will take a little longer than we had hoped, but we are working through the issues,” he added.

“And on the other side, we welcome Australian ships and aircraft to visit Singapore, which they do. I have said before and I repeated to the prime minister on this visit, that when the Australian new submarines are ready, we welcome them to visit Changi Naval Base in due course.”

The prime ministers also welcomed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to accelerate maritime decarbonisation and digitalisation.

Singapore and Australia work with interested partners to explore opportunities to develop zero or near-zero greenhouse gas emission fuel supply chains for the maritime industry. These include building the necessary infrastructure, formalising standards, as well as developing and implementing the training requirements.

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