The 10th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, successfully concluded in Singapore on June 5. The attendees had in-depth discussions on bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation during the three-day summit. As a major regional cooperation platform, the dialogue will help dispel suspicion and build up mutual trust among the Asia-Pacific countries, said John Chipman, director-general of IISS, organizer of the Shangri-La Dialogue.
As the world’s political and economic center of gravity is gradually shifting eastward to the Asia-Pacific region, the geopolitical landscape and security structure of the region are undergoing profound and complex changes. What are the intentions of the United States, which recently announced its “return to Asia” and its desire to increase its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region? What contributions will China make to the Asia-Pacific security cooperation? What creative thinking will China and the United States adopt to improve military ties? What defense and security policy will other Asia-Pacific countries adopt?
China adheres to peaceful development
Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie headed a delegation to attend the dialogue. This was the first time that a Chinese defense minister attended the dialogue. Liang exchanged views with the defense ministers and senior officials from other participating countries on the development of bilateral military relations as well as other issues of common concern during a series of bilateral meetings. In addition, he delivered a keynote speech titled “China’s International Security Cooperation,” expounding on China’s policies for national defense and regional security cooperation.
Liang Guanglie’s participation in the dialogue is part of the Chinese military’s active efforts to enhance mutual trust and promote regional security cooperation, and shows that China attaches great importance to safeguarding and promoting regional security. Ouyang Wei, a professor at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University, said China shows its willingness to carry out pragmatic cooperation and to actively participate in the multilateral security cooperation mechanism by sending the high-profile delegation to the dialogue.
Many foreign reporters said Liang clearly explained China’s military development and defense policy in his speech, successfully reducing the international concern over China’s growing military clout.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak mentioned the ocean voyages by ancient Chinese navigator Zheng He during his speech. He said that as early as 600 years ago, Zheng’s fleet brought peace and friendship to Malacca. However, the Portuguese conquered Malacca 100 years later using a dozen warships and 800 soldiers, and ruled the country for as long as 130 years. Razak takes a positive view of China’s development and growing strength. He said, “These factors should not be regarded as reasons for anxiety.”
United States seek to boost confidence in its allies
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who will retire at the end of June, also participated in the forum. He said on June 4 that the United States would keep its security commitment to its Asian allies despite military budget cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will deepen and advance its military presence and military power in the Asia Pacific region. The public has been aware that the United States has considerably accelerated the pace of its steps to “return to Asia.” U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the East Asia Summit to be held on the Indonesian resort island of Bali in late 2011.
During the forum, Robert Gates jokingly said before defense ministers, senior defense officials and security experts from many countries that he would take a bet with anybody that in five years, the influence of the United States in this region will be just as strong, if not stronger than now. Analysts believe that the United States is seeking to boost the confidence of its Asian allies in an attempt to alleviate their doubts.
Will greater presence of the United States in Asian affairs lead to competition between China and the United States in the region? Wu Xinbo, deputy dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs under Fudan University, said despite the positive attitude, the United States still needs to take practical actions. It is difficult for the United States to change its strategy of using the concerns of some countries over China’s growing strength to contain China.
Avoiding third-party involvement in South China Sea issue
Liang made clear in his keynote speech that China is committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea. China and the ASEAN members signed the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” in 2002, agreeing on the principle of resolving the territorial and maritime right disputes through bilateral friendly consultations and negotiations between the sovereign states directly involved. They also committed to respecting the rights that countries are entitled to under the principles of international law to navigate or fly over the waters of the South China Sea. He said that the overall situation in the South China Sea is currently stable, and the dialogues and consultations between China and ASEAN members on implementing the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” have maintained a positive momentum.
Analysts believe that it is imperative to prevent a third party intervention for solving the South China Sea issue. Some experts pointed out that the United States is very likely to ensure its presence in Asia by depending more on military power. However, such Cold War-like mentality may lead to the opposite effect, resulting in increasing unbalance among regional powers and easier outbreak of disputes, which may even bring about internal instability in countries that depend heavily on the American power.
The call of coordinating positions to enhance ASEAN’s voice for solving the South China Sea dispute has been heard within the organization. The comment published in Thailand’s “The Nation” on June 6 said that ASEAN members see China’s peaceful development in different ways, which means ASEAN could find itself in an embarrassing position.
Asia unlikely return to Cold War pattern
Some Asian countries support the United States’ drive to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, arguing that it helps to maintain the balance of the geopolitical pattern in the region. Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen, when meeting with Gates, reiterated his support of the U.S. military expansionary role in Asia.
Wu believes that the overall situation of this era has decided that Asia is unlikely to return to the bi-polar pattern of the Cold War period, although some people have the complex mentality of depending on China for economic growth and the United States for protection.
The editorial published in Singapore’s “Lianhe Zaobao” said that the last thing ASEAN wants to see is a Cold War-like situation between China and the United States, as they would be in a dilemma when standing between the two confronting powers. Razak said in the opening speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue that Asia should not return to the bi-polar pattern of the Cold War period in the face of various traditional and non-traditional security challenges. “China is our partner and the United States is also our partner,” he said, emphasizing that ASEAN should regard both China and the United States as important partners and should not favor either party.
Dana Allin from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies told the reporter that the United States made the “returning to Asia” policy according to its own strength and national benefits, and wise U.S. officials will not force Asian countries to take side between China and the United States.
Allin expressed that the “You are with us or against us” statement made by the Bush Administration during the Iraq War had led to the split of Europe, and many people in the United States have realized that it does not accord with their interests. Therefore, the United States is unlikely to make same mistake in Asia.