The Shangri-La Dialogue: A Wrap-up

SingaporeAs always, at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the premier Asian regional security forum, most important news had to be read in the subtexts, beneath the usual cant and pleasantries. This past weekend, there were no public confrontations between potential adversaries, as happened in 2010, when then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates publicly argued over the North Korea policy with Chinese Major General Zhu Chenghu, a director-general of National Defense University in Beijing. The next day, General Ma Xiaotian, during his own speech to the forum, launched a tirade at United States, blaming the Pentagon for escalating U.S.-China animosity and a breakdown in military-military cooperation. At the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, all the public speeches seemed to come from the same speechwriter. On the first day, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told attendees that all countries in Asia must work harder to build trust amongst themselves. “To build a strategic trust, we need to abide ourselves by international law, uphold the responsibilities of nations, especially of major powers, and improve the efficiency of multilateral security cooperation mechanisms”. In a question and answer session after his speech at the forum, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directly addressed a concern, raised by Chinese attendees, that the American re-balancing to Asia was designed to contain China. United States welcomes “a strong and emerging, responsible China,” Hagel said, according to a Pentagon transcript. “We look forward to that emergence for many reasons, one among them all is as important as any other, that’s the responsibility that great nations take on.” Hagel and senior Chinese military leaders attending the forum also took the time to build personal ties. They had several informal chats, U.S. and Chinese attendees reminisced about their long careers in military and swapped stories about their grandchildren. American officials told the Wall Street Journal that they had seen a “marked change, at least in tone, in new Chinese leadership’s approach to U.S,” presumably reflected by these warm exchanges in Singapore. Yet subtext of the forum was more important than niceties, even if those niceties made for good copy: East Asia today is engaged in a massive arms race, and that build-up and hardening alliances were barely concealed at the forum. (According to Stockholm Peace Research Institute, military spending rose by slightly over three percent year-on-year in Asia in 2012, one of the only regions of the world where it did go up.) While advocating a closer cooperation and trust-building in East Asia, Nguyen reminded forum participants that Hanoi, despite its weak economy and political in-fighting, plans to hedge against a lack of resolution of regional tensions. “No regional country would oppose strategic engagement of extra-regional powers if such engagement aims to enhance a cooperation for peace, stability and development,” Nguyen said. By “no regional country,” you can read “Vietnam”. For “engagement of extra-regional powers?” means United States, which over past decade has built closer strategic ties with Vietnam than any other nation in Southeast Asia save Singapore, including treaty allies like Philippines. Meanwhile, though the question and answer with Hagel was played up prominently by Pentagon, he delivered perhaps the sternest and most public warning ever from a top U.S. leader to China about hacking of U.S. government and corporate assets by people allegedly linked to the Chinese government (…..)

Link: http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2013/06/03/the-shangri-la-dialogue-a-wrap-up/

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