On Dec. 7, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the first rotational deployment of a Poseidon 8 airplane to Singapore. The jet is the U.S. Navy’s next-generation long-range maritime patrol, anti-submarine, anti-shipping, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset.
Some argue that this does not signify anything new and should be seen in the broader perspective of the evolution of defense ties between Singapore and the United States. The “deniers” also claim it is not “directed at China.”
I certainly agree that this rotational deployment should be viewed in a broader context. But I and most likely China’s military leadership have a rather different view of that context. Indeed, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson said, “We are paying close attention to how the relevant situation develops.” A Foreign Ministry spokesperson was more blunt, criticizing the move as “aimed at militarizing the region.”
The first forward deployment of the Poseidon was in November 2013 to Okinawa. It was pre-planned as part of the U.S. regional re-balance to Asia. But it was not lost on China that it occurred days after China’s establishment of the East China Sea Defense Identification Zone. Poseidons also fly out of the Philippines. Japan and the Philippines are U.S. defense treaty allies and use of their territory to launch intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) probes against China are part and parcel of those arrangements and are seen as such by China. But in a new gambit that must have raised eyebrows in China, in September 2014 it was leaked in Washington that Malaysia had offered the use of the island of Labuan for refueling them. Now they will use Singapore as well, albeit also on a rotational basis.