After a two-year break due to COVID-19, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is once again organizing the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), Asia’s premier defense summit, from June 10–12 in Singapore.
“It’s a unique meeting where ministers debate the region’s most pressing security challenges, engage in important bilateral talks and come up with fresh approaches together”, the IISS said.
“At a time of ever-greater focus on the geopolitical and defence dynamics of the Asia-Pacific, the importance of in-person debate among the region’s key actors is greater than ever. The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue is a unique platform for such debate, enabling government ministers and senior officials as well as business leaders and security experts to come together to share fresh perspectives on Asia’s developing security challenges”.
The annual high-level security summit had taken place every year since 2002 before it was called off in 2020 and 2021. Some security observers expect this year’s SLD to shed light on the United States’ and China’s thinking and posture in relation to the region.
According to The Straits Times newspaper, some 500 delegates from 42 countries, including more than 70 ministers and senior defense officials, will gather in person at the eponymous Shangri-La hotel for speeches, debates and as per tradition, private huddles on the side-lines of the event.
In a statement on June 9, Singapore’s Ministry of Defense said that the Dialogue provides a valuable, open, and neutral platform for the exchange of perspectives on defense and security issues and initiatives.
It is a tradition at the SLD to have a country’s leader deliver a keynote address. This year, the honor is bestowed upon Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also participate in the inaugural session on Friday evening.
“As the only Asian nation among the Group of Seven, I will tell (the audience) the kind of role Japan will play going forward at a time when the diplomatic and security environment is becoming increasingly severe,” Kyodo news agency reported Kishida as saying at a parliamentary session.
“The prime minister will explain efforts to realize a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ and our foreign and security policy,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press briefing in Tokyo recently.
Kishida was not the first Japanese prime minister to speak at the SLD. In 2014, the then-prime-minister Shinzo Abe delivered his keynote speech during the summit.
This year, there will be an extra attraction at the SLD. On Saturday (June 11), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the forum virtually from 4–4.30 p.m. SST.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has pressured Zelensky to present in various forums the atrocities of Russian forces in his country. He has also spoken at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Grammy Music Awards in April, Qatar’s Doha Forum in March as well as with the British Parliament and U.S. Congress via a live video feed.
There will be 32 speakers at this year’s SLD. Most of the sessions will be chaired or moderated by IISS Director-General John Chipman.
As usual, the defense ministers of the U.S., Lyold Austin, and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, may clash at the SLD. On June 11, Austin may deliver a major speech on U.S. defense policy in the Indo-Pacific region, while Wei may counter all the criticisms of more than 40 countries on China on the last day of the SLD.
It is surprising to see that the SLD has become a China-bashing forum. Yet, China has the courage to attend this prestigious anti-Chinese international security summit.
Indonesia’s American-educated Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief Gen. Andika Perkasa will be attending the Dialogue, while Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto will deliver his speech on June 11.
Surprisingly, Andika, who arrived in Singapore on June 7, was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal from Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen on behalf of Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob the next day.
Andika was conferred the award for his significant contributions in strengthening defense ties between the Singapore and Indonesian Armies. Under Gen. Andika’s leadership, both armies have expanded bilateral defense cooperation and enhanced people-to-people ties through professional exchanges between both armies. Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, both armies remained adaptable and successfully concluded bilateral flagship exercises, such as Exercise Safkar Indopura and Exercise Chandrapura, which is a strong testament to Singapore and Indonesia’s commitment to strengthening defense ties.
Another important speaker will be from Vietnam, the rising star of Asia and the second biggest claimant in the South China Sea after China. Vietnam’s Defense Minister Gen. Phan Văn Giang will speak at the Third Plenary Session of the SLD on June 11.
For several years, an aggressive China has been bullying and coercing countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Indonesia, a non-claimant state, in the SCS. It is the only country in Asia that does not have any respect for international rules like the 1982 United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Hence, speakers at the SLD will take turns to call for a rules-based regional security order.
It remains to be seen whether Chinese Minister Wei will explain the progress on China’s Code of Conduct (COC) talks with ASEAN. If China compromises on its illegal Nine-Dashed Line claim in the SCS, it will receive international fame and keep the U.S. and U.K. out of the SCS disputes.
China has signed and ratified the UNCLOS but consistently failed in honoring it. This strange stance of China provides a big opportunity for the U.S. and its allies to attack Beijing frequently.