Hot topics at defense forum

Global Times
Li Jiayao

Government and military delegations from around the world are making their way to Singapore for the 17th Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) - a multilateral platform on Asia-Pacific defense and security, which is sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The three-day conference is expected to attract up to 600 delegates from 40 countries and regions. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will deliver the keynote speech on Friday at the forum.

The anticipated summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which could take place on June 12 in Singapore, will be high on the agenda at this year's SLD.

"How Pyongyang will abandon its nuclear weapons - either through a phase-in or immediate denuclearization - will be the core discussion at the SLD," said Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences. He believes the Kim-Trump summit will take place and a peace agreement for the Korean War will finally be reached by all relevant parties.

While the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is likely to be a key talking point, the SLD is a platform to voice different political opinions and carries little weight on international affairs, said Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University's Center for American Studies. "The dialogue will not exert any significant influence on the Korean Peninsula issue."

The dialogue is taking place as the US Navy has dispatched two warships on so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, amid China's vow to bolster its navy's combat readiness. The South China Sea issue will also receive a great deal of attention at the defense forum, said experts.

Experts believe the US will fail in its attempt to use territorial disputes to drive a wedge between China and other countries in the region. They cite a number of factors: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is known for his China-friendly attitude; Vietnam is not capable of challenging China; Japan has been actively fostering closer ties with China; and negotiations between China and ASEAN countries have produced positive results.

Despite remarks by John Chipman, IISS director-general and chief executive, that inter-governmental meetings at the SLD as well as public statements "have the potential to shape defense and security policy in the region," many observers believe the annual event has descended into a platform by US-led Western forces to influence Asia-Pacific region's agenda-setting.

Targeting China

This is why China has downgraded its participation in the SLD.

"China is losing interest in the dialogue, because the SLD is becoming a platform for Western countries to promote their Asia-Pacific policies and win private gains," Wu said.

The view is echoed by Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of International Relations.

"Apparently, the dialogue is targeting China and is aimed at crippling China's influences in the region," Hu said. He believes that inviting Modi, known for his skeptical attitude toward the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative, as the keynote speaker is an intentional attempt to challenge China.

However, Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Central China's Hubei Province in April, and the two leaders appeared to have created a friendlier atmosphere for China-India ties. This is not what the West had expected. "Whether Modi will follow the US and criticize China at the SLD remains to be seen," Wu said.

In the face of Western challenges, Hu believes that China, while making necessary military preparations, should proactively win the support of countries in the region.

"Chinese delegations will refute all vilification of China, clarify the country's political stance on international affairs and demonstrate its determination to safeguard regional peace at the SLD," Lü said.


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