20.06.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Events on the Sidelines of the Annual Shangri-La Dialogue

Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore

At the end of May and beginning of June this year, another annual forum on the generalized theme of ensuring regional security was held in the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore. A number of notable events took place, both in the plenary sessions and “on the sidelines”.

 

Singapore hosted this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue from May 31 to June 2, the general theme of which is usually formulated as “regional security challenges. Under the auspices of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, this platform has convened yearly for over two decades, this meeting being the 21st of its kind.

Although the Raisina Dialogue, a similarly oriented forum, has been operating in recent years at the initiative of the Indian Foreign Ministry (with an already established “branch” in Japan), the IISS platform has not lost its established authority in terms of the quality of expertise in all significant processes developing in the Indo-Pacific region.

This credibility is supported by the composition of its participants, which include current and retired statesmen of the highest rank from leading nations across the world. Bilateral contacts between the participants are the most interesting events in the field of activities which take place during the Shangri-La Dialogue.

US and PRC Defense Ministers Meet

This very fact is noteworthy, because during a similar event last year, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin only managed to shake hands with then-Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu. This apparently happened because the heads of both delegations found themselves in the same corridor, and it was awkward to part without acknowledging each other. Nevertheless, the discomfort of last year’s contact between the two leading world powers’ defense chiefs reflected quite accurately the state of relations between them: a dangerous level of tension, when there seems to be nothing left to talk about.

That tension was lowered somewhat during a meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joseph Biden six months later in San Francisco on the sidelines of the APEC Summit. Since then, bilateral talks have been held more or less regularly, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken acting as the main participants from the US side. American business leaders who are very interested in ensuring that “this stupid policy” does not prevent them from doing “useful things,” have also made frequent trips to China.

Finally, contacts have also been resumed between the defense ministries. In early April of this year after a telephone conversation between Biden and Xi Jinping, military experts from both countries met in Hawaii to discuss the situation in particularly problematic maritime areas, first of all, in the South China Sea and around Taiwan. After that, apparently, it was time for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his current Chinese counterpart Dong Jun to “talk about the pressing issues”.

As expected, this conversation was held in Singapore on the eve of the start of the forum, and the discussion turned out to be quite challenging. Commentators from both sides agree that the focus of the 75-minute negotiation was on the same two major “pain” zones, Taiwan and the South China Sea, where there is a particularly high probability of an accidental (i.e., not authorized by the high command) incident involving nearby US and Chinese warships or aircraft.

In order to minimize the possibility of such incidents, it is necessary to take quite clear organizational measures and, first of all, to create different levels of reliable lines of “emergency communication” between both sides. It seems that this is what the military experts in Hawaii and their high-ranking superiors in Singapore were doing.

This took place despite the fact that the two sides hold diametrically opposite views on the very nature of the tension in the aforementioned zones. However, those views are formed not by the defense ministers, but by the political leadership of both countries. In their speeches at the plenary sessions of the regular Shangri-La Dialogue, Secretary Austin and Minister Dong Jun only made these views clear to the participants of the event.

The Activity of Japan’s Defense Minister

Minoru Kihara, head of Japan’s Defense Ministry, was very active at the forum. It is noteworthy that his own bilateral contacts “on the side” during the forum began with a meeting with Dong Jun.

It should be noted in this connection that last year, too, the predecessors of the two current ministers at a similar event did not limit themselves to shaking hands, but talked about topics of mutual relevance. These latter topics are more or less similar to those discussed in the US-China format. But they are presently affected by the problem of the periodically escalating situation around the group of uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands located in the East China Sea.

On the whole, it seems that Japan is trying to feel its way toward its own optimal political course with regards to China against the backdrop of increasing turbulence within its “big brother”.

Nevertheless, the main component of Japan’s foreign policy remains the strengthening of allied relations with the United States and overcoming problems (including those of an “historical” nature) in relations with Washington’s other important regional ally, the Republic of Korea, as well as with a number of other states. In particular, at a meeting in Singapore, the defense ministers of Japan and the Republic of Korea declared the exhaustion of the (serious) consequences of the December 2018 incident when a Japanese Navy maritime surveillance plane was exposed to radiation from the onboard weapons control system of a South Korean destroyer.

The opportunity was not missed to once again emphasize the process of forming a trilateral alliance between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan. The claims made to the People’s Republic of China regarding the situation in the South China Sea and around Taiwan were met with the expected responses.

The President of the Philippines Was in the Spotlight.

The Philippines are increasingly “drifting” towards this above alliance, which is one of the most remarkable trends in the development of the regional situation in general. At the current meeting of the Shangri-La Dialogue, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was essentially recognized as a guest of honor. Last year, this role was played by the Prime Minister of Australia, a country whose foreign policy is also quite clearly marked by a similar trend.

The speech by President Marcos , intended to set the tone for the work of this forum, included assessments of almost all major problems of the Indo-Pacific region. But, for obvious reasons, the most attention was paid to the situation in the South China Sea and the problems of overlapping territorial claims. Such claims on the part of the Philippines were supported by references to international law, one of the elements of which, according to the rapporteur, is the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

But the Hague decision is rejected by Beijing, and this position was once again stated on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its comments about President Marcos’ speech. The acuteness of the situation in the area of disputed territories in the South China Sea was evidenced by another incident that took place the day after the conclusion of the Shangri-La Dialogue in the area of one of the islands, the claims to ownership of which the Philippines “strengthened” in the late 1990s by placing an obsolete transport vessel on its shore. Today, it remains a rusty hulk on which, however, the Philippine flag is ceremoniously hoisted every day.

Volodymyr Zelensky Filled the Pauses of the Singapore Performance.

As in the previous year, the honorable audience was not so much entertained as annoyed by the presence of Volodymyr Zelensky – a patented “carpetbagger” in the arena of the modern international political circus. And although Phillipines President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. did manage to leave Singapore in time to go home, he was still caught by the once-president of Ukraine in Manila with his constant whining: “Je n’ai pas mangé …” However, Zelensky did not receive much support from the head of the Philippines.

However, the very fact that the Philippine President had to give time to this – person – was just another example of the price of being in the camp of the main opponent of the China-Russia alliance.

In conclusion, it seems appropriate to generalize the author’s assessment of the very existence of the Shangri-La Dialogue. It boils down to the fact that this forum is one of those few expert platforms where opinions (often diametrically opposite opinions) are still exchanged on numerous and growing problems in international relations, although it is also a place where political garbage sometimes gets in the way.

Such platforms should function at least so that the world information space is not completely filled with poison, fears and hatred by fighters from paranoid propaganda, directly contributing to provoking another global massacre.

 

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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