No breakthrough, no explosion at Shangri-La – Asia Times

No breakthrough, no explosion at Shangri-La - Asia Times

The setting for this year’s Shangri- La Dialogue in Singapore, a defence speak shop that brought up security officials and policy experts from across the Indo-Pacific and beyond, was heightened by rising tensions between China and US allies in Asia.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., president of the Philippines, drew no blows by criticizing Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea in his eagerly awaited presentation address.

In a little veiled criticism of the Eastern power, the Filipino president highlighted its “illegal, aggressive, violent and false actions]which ] continue to violate our independence, sovereign rights and jurisdiction” in the fiercely disputed waters.

In general, Marcos Jr. raised the “permanent point” of China’s desire to “determine the stability and economic development of this region.”

After six years of Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-China foreign policy, Marcos Jr, who faced criticism at home and abroad, made a painful reversal to his support of the United States as essential to local harmony.

Nevertheless, the Filipino leader made it clear that, similar to other Southeast Asian states, he is not fully aligning with one superpower against another since” ]i ] t’s never a choice” and” ]b ] oth countries are important” for regional peace and prosperity.

The two superpowers also sparked important discussions on the outside of the mega-event, acknowledging the grave effects of an unhindered New Cold War.

During his conference with China’s freshly- built defense minister, Dong Jun, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held what the US characterized as “firm but expert” conversations on a wide range of issues including disagreements over Beijing’s radioactive, space, and cyber development policies, actions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, and alleged “lethal aid” to Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

This was the first time US and Chinese defense chiefs met in 18 months, giving the impression that their bilateral military ties would be reinstated.

This year’s Shangri- La Dialogue could n’t have been more timely. It came hot on the heels of China’s massive drills around Taiwan&nbsp, shortly after the self- ruling island nation inaugurated its new president, Lai Ching- te.

Beijing has increased its intimidation tactics by expanding its missile deployment close to and expanding its aerial patrols across from the Taiwan Strait in an effort to demonstrate its growing ability to carry out a complex, multidirectional invasion of the self-governing island China views as a renegade province, despite the new Taiwanese leader’s stated commitment to maintaining a stable status quo.

” If China stops its provocation and intimidation, then peace and stability can be maintained”, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Wellington Koo told reporters following China’s latest drills, painting the Asian superpower as the main cause of trouble in the region.

Meanwhile, China has also upped the ante in the South China Sea against the Philippines, a US mutual defense treaty ally. In recent months, Philippine marine forces have clashed with Filipino patrol and resupply vessels close to the Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal on at least five occasions, causing serious injury to several Filipino servicemen and major damage to several Philippine vessels.

Marcos Jr made it clear during his question-and-answer session with the media at the Shangri-La Dialogue that a Filipino’s death would cross a “red line.” What we call an act of war is very similar to what a Filipino citizen was killed by willful will. We would have crossed the Rubicon. Is that a red line? Almost certainly”.

The Biden administration has repeatedly indicated its “ironclad support” for the Philippines and stated that the 1951 US-Presidential Mutual Defense Treaty would apply in the event of an armed attack on Philippine military and ships in the South China Sea, raising the possibility of a great power conflict over the disputed land features. &nbsp,

The lack of institutionalized dialogue between the two superpowers, which has raised the risk of armed conflict in recent months, is a major source of concern. In response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taiwan, China suspended various communications channels as a form of diplomatic retaliation.

On two occasions in November 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met, and they also met on the heels of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit ( APEC ) in San Francisco last year, where they agreed to re-establish guardrails in bilateral relations.

The Pentagon has pushed for the establishment of a communication channel between the US Indo-Pacific Command ( INDOPACOM) head in Hawaii and his Chinese counterpart in charge of operations in the Western Pacific, including those over Taiwan, Japan, and the South China Sea.

The US and Chinese defense chiefs had phone conversations last month to set the tone for their in-person meeting in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue.

” The]US Secretary ] expressed concern about recent provocative]People’s Liberation Army ] activity around the Taiwan Strait and he reiterated that]China ] should not use Taiwan’s political transition – part of a normal, routine democratic process – as a pretext for coercive measures”, US Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder Ryder said in a statement following the 75- minute meeting between Austin and Dong.

After meeting Austin in Singapore, Dong said the” stabilization” of military- to- military relations “does not come by easily and shall be cherished dearly”, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian, told reporters after the meeting, adding that Dong stressed that neither side should” contain or smear” the other side, but rather build mutual trust.

Dong added that commercial ships and aircraft” can always operate safely” in areas surrounding China, especially the South China Sea, but that” there is a huge difference between freedom and willfulness, between navigation and trespassing.”

” It is important to respect others ‘ security concerns, and security should be mutually respected. No one can pursue one’s security at the expense of another country’s security”, Dong said, according to the ministry spokesperson.

For the Philippines, Marcos Jr’s keynote speech, the first- ever by a Filipino leader, marked a major diplomatic victory. It gave Manila a significant platform to win more international support and put pressure on its neighbors in the South China Sea as tensions rise.

Marcos Jr. used Singapore as a perfect setting to highlight ASEAN’s shortcomings in directing regional affairs and highlighting his nation’s defensive strategy in the face of persistent conflicts. &nbsp,

He emphasized the sovereignty of the Philippines and its” strategic agency,” as well as China’s aggressive behavior, including its recently passed law prohibiting” trespassing” in Beijing-claimed waters across the South China Sea basin.

The Filipino leader retorted against China’s claim that the Philippines is the source of trouble by saying,” We have defined our territory and maritime zones in a manner befitting a responsible and law-abiding member of the international community.”

” As President, I have sworn to this solemn commitment from the very first day that I took office]to defend our sovereign rights ]. I do not intend to yield. He continued, warning China that its current course of action would spell a lose-lose situation for the entire region.” Filipinos do not yield.

Follow Richard Javad Heydarian on X at @Richeydarian