A deepening Australia-Singapore relationship is not about containing China's rise in Asia but furthering regional economic integration, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday as the two sides expand defence and economic ties.
The enhanced strategic partnership, agreed to by both nations this week, seeks to upgrade the bilateral relationship to a similar level Australia enjoys with trans-Tasman neighbour New Zealand, Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
"This is a massive upgrading of our relationship with Singapore."
With 28.5 billion Australian dollars (21.06 billion U.S. dollars) in two-way trade, the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement signed in 2003 will be comprehensively modernised, including measures to facilitate the development of northern Australia and improved market access for Australian Business in Singapore.
Singapore, Australia's fifth largest trading partner, has also removed restrictions to allow easier movement of human capital between the two markets.
Building on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed in 2015, Singapore will also fund a 2.25 billion Australian dollar (1.66 billion U.S. dollar) expansion of military training facilities in northern Australia to more than double the number of troops on rotation from 6, 000 to 14,000. The land poor city-state has long sent troops for training in Australia and around the region.
Turnbull dismissed speculation the deepening defence ties is a move to curb China's rise in Asia as tensions in the South China Sea increase.
"We've had a close strategic relationship with Singapore for many years and this will be seen around the region as a natural development from the strong relationship we have," Turnbull said.
"One of the things that underlines and underpins peace and security in the region is closer and closer economic engagement."
Australia has been pursuing an aggressive trade agenda within the Asian region in a bid to underpin the region's stability, concluding trade treaties with China, Japan and South Korea, while just recently beginning negotiations with India and Indonesia.
Turnbull said furthering regional economic integration means countries become more dependent on each other, and thus provide incentives for "peaceful collaboration and maintenance of the relative stability we've seen for many years."