Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Shangri-La Dialogue proves unfairly dominated by Washington, regional harsh accusations

The Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), held annually in Singapore, is a security forum where Western, especially US discourse power has the upper hand. It's not, as the West claimed, timed to deal with security anxieties ratcheted up in the Asia-Pacific region, but a platform to sell US security doctrines that are positively portrayed as "contributing to regional stability."

Throughout these years, three terms have been used over and over to describe China's defense policy at the dialogue, among which "uncertain" is the lightest one. In recent times, China has been increasingly accused of being "aggressive" or "bullying" others. The SLD, which is actually led by the US, offers a platform to communicate with Beijing while pressuring it.

Another purpose of the SLD is to coordinate relations among US allies. At the SLD over last weekend, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel rallied defense ministers from Japan and South Korea to hold a trilateral meeting despite strained relationship between Seoul and Tokyo.

Tempers frayed unprecedentedly at this year's SLD, as Japan and the US ganged up to antagonize China. The keynote address delivered by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was a barrage against China and its recent behavior in the East China Sea and South China Sea disputes.

Abe emphasized the importance of international law to resolve or at least manage disputes. He also pledged Japan would play an "even greater and more proactive role" with stronger defense ties to Southeast Asia, including an offer to provide patrol boats to the Philippines and Vietnam.

In a subsequent address next morning, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel endorsed Abe's speech and unleashed a rhetorical fusillade on China.

The rhetoric from Tokyo and Washington only reinforced both countries' anxieties over China's growing might.

It's not difficult to pick out logical loopholes from Abe's elaborate speech. He clamored for respect for international law, but the prime minister's ambition to enshrine collective self-defense is a violation of Japan's pacifist constitution. How can we expect a man who disregards domestic law to respect international law?

Japan promised to enhance its security role in Southeast Asia. But how can its Self-Defense Forces still be called this if they stretch into Southeast Asia?

The clumsy attacks against China didn't score much resonance from the Southeast Asian contingent, the most important audience at Shangri-La.

Vietnam and the Philippines acted rather constrainedly in Singapore. And after Hagel's speech, a professor from Indonesia asked the defense secretary whether the US is contradicting itself by opposing one single country, implicitly China, dominating East Asia while the US itself pursues a dominant role. But Hagel evaded giving a direct answer.

The tone of this SLD was set during Abe's keynote speech. The Chinese delegation were duly incensed and forced to return fire.

Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the General Staff of the PLA, accused Abe and Hagel of sticking to each other targeting China, departing from the speech he had prepared for the dialogue. The Chinese side went toe-to-toe with Washington and Tokyo.

In its move from being a reluctant participant in the SLD, China now engages actively in the security forum.

This year, the sizeable contingent from China includes military representatives, scholars, media persons and a diplomatic delegation led by Fu Ying, chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress.

The primary goal of the Chinese delegation was to advocate and elaborate a new security concept for Asia. Nonetheless, we were kidnapped by the crude Western accusations and forced into a defensive battle.

In recent years, there are soaring attacks against China at the SLD, a West-dominated platform.

China should prepare itself for provocations and respond in a more wise and humorous way. There is no need to be led by the nose by the Western countries.

More importantly, we should cultivate and expand the clout of multilateral platforms where China can have a bigger say, such as the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and the World Peace Forum.

Sources: The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Yu Jincui with Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China. yujincui@globaltimes.com.cn

Regional harsh accusations overshadow Shangri-La talks

Perhaps the number "13" is unlucky after all. For, over this weekend, the 13th Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), the premier Asia-Pacific security forum held annually in Singapore, was unfortunately shrouded in a thicket of almost tangible tension.

The first salvo was launched by none other than the increasingly controversial Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. During his keynote speech at SLD opening dinner, Abe made a thinly veiled accusation that China upset the status quo in the East China Sea by threat of force.

Abe talked about the need to change the country's legal basis, a reference to the amendment of Japan's pacifist constitution, to enable it to take part in "collective self-defense." But amiss in Abe's extensive description of the "new Japanese" concept was any mention of Japan's militaristic past which still casts a dark pall over many of its victimized neighbors.

The next morning, as if in sync, US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel wasted no time in his keynote speech to directly confront China by accusing the latter of unilaterally altering the status quo in the South China Sea.

Hagel followed up by officially stating the US disapproval of China's setting up of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea. Echoing Abe, Hagel agreed with the need to amend the Japanese constitution, and even mooted the reassessment of their joint defense treaty.

The unusually blunt and strident US posture during this year's SLD startled many observers. But a careful examination of the recent chain of events both regionally and worldwide may provide some clues as to Hagel's tough tone.

A rapidly emergent China, with its attendant rising confidence in tackling foreign and regional matters, almost inevitably gave rise to the perception among some US policymakers that the hitherto more or less unchallenged regional leadership of the US in the Asia-Pacific region was being increasingly sapped.

This resulted in the US urgency to reassert its preeminent role in at least the security matters of the region. Hence the notions of "pivoting" and "rebalancing" rang aloud in US rhetoric versus this region. This sense of acute leadership reinstatement is further exacerbated by recent US foreign policy fiascos around the world.

The Edward Snowden-revealed US blatant spying on foes and allies alike continued to gnaw at global US credibility and moral standing. US President Barack Obama's own threat of use of force to resolve the Syrian civil war was essentially upstaged by a last-minute Russian brokered deal to avert imminent attack.

Yet the Chinese responded to these seemingly joint attacks with a two-pronged approach. The more genteel response was delivered by its former vice foreign minister Fu Ying, who reassured the region of China's peaceful intension and long-standing contribution to regional security.

The more head-on response came in the form of off-the-cuff remarks Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the General Staff of the PLA, who characterized both Abe and Hagel's speeches as being provocative to China.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the general mood among many of the SLD participants from regional neighbors was such that while potential Japanese remilitarization and the return of US hegemony in the region were certainly not welcome, a certain perception of increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region, rightly or otherwise, was also taking root. China needs to redouble its efforts in assuring its neighbors of its purported peaceful rise.

But despite their confrontational postures, both Wang and Hagel made ample mentions of various ongoing and perspective security cooperation mechanisms between the US and China, giving the impression that their "new type of major power relationship" could still hold up despite stark differences.

In addition, Abe, Hagel and Wang variously gave high praises for the important roles in regional security played by East Asian Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum as well as ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

It is in this sense that despite the dense and serious mood permeating this year's SLD, a glimmer of hope can still be gleaned.

Contributed by Ei Sun Oh Source:Global Times Published: 2014-6-3 19:38:01
The author is a senior fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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