42 countries, 600 delegates . . .
The Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s leading high-level meeting on regional security held annually in Singapore, ended Sunday after three days of speeches, panels, discussions, and side meetings that attracted nearly 600 delegates from 42 countries in the region. Top on the agenda was the war in Ukraine and the growing competition between the U.S. and China, with a particular emphasis on the escalating security issue in Taiwan. Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gave the keynote address. He warned how a Ukraine-like scenario could unfold in East Asia and reiterated Tokyo’s plans to augment defence spending to boost the country’s military capabilities.
Defence Ministers present competing visions for regional security . . .
Speaking on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin provided an update on U.S. strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. Austin said that while the U.S. remains open to diplomacy, it is preparing to “deter and defeat future aggressions.” He also highlighted China’s “provocative and destabilizing” actions in the East and South China Seas and the Taiwan Strait. On Sunday, China’s Minister of National Defence, General Wei Fenghe, presented China’s vision for the regional order and criticized the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy for fuelling regional tensions. General Wei also warned about foreign interference and repeated that China would “fight to the very end” if “anyone dared to secede Taiwan from China.”
An uncertain future in the Indo-Pacific . . .
Secretary Austin and General Wei also met on the sideline of the dialogue, but their meeting didn’t yield any tangible results. Both sides blame the other for increased regional tensions, and the two hold views on the region that appear increasingly irreconcilable. Some observers also pointed to China’s more aggressive tone at this year’s dialogue, especially regarding Taiwan. While both the U.S. and China called for increased communication, which could reduce the risk of a crisis, the region is increasingly militarized, and the overriding mood is anything but reassuring.