Upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue to focus on promoting regional security

Source: XinhuaEditor: Zhang Tao
2016-06-01 17:42

The 15th Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asia-Pacific defense and security summit, will kick off in Singapore over the weekend.

Since its establishment in 2002, the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue has become a key forum, which brings together defense ministers, military chiefs, high-ranking defense officials and experts, for the discussion and analysis of defense and security concerns in the immediate region and beyond.

The unique role of the Shangri-La Dialogue lies in its distinctive composition.

The dialogue is organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank, which is a civil institution. And although it's incubated up by a British organization, a country outside this region, it is held here in Singapore.

Koh Chin Yee, CEO of Singapore Longus Research Institute, told Xinhua that this special situation makes the Shangri-La Dialogue a unique platform.

"Firstly, the organizer of the Shangri-La Dialogue is neutral, in terms of nationality and identity, or at least, it can remain neutral in most of the topics in the region, because Britain has no fundamental interests or demands in the Asia-Pacific region," Koh said.

"Secondly, Singapore maintains a good relationship with countries in this region, so officials won't have too many concerns about attending the dialogue.

"Plus, Singapore is willing to play the role of mediator. Finally, Singapore has the ability, both in hardware and software facilities, to hold such a high-level, high-stakes dialogue."

Back in 2002, when the IISS was preparing the dialogue, there already existed two platforms on security and defense. One was the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the first region-wide Asia-Pacific multilateral forum for official consultations on peace and security issues.

The other was the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP), which provided an informal mechanism mostly for scholars, officials and others in their private capacities to discuss political and security issues and challenges facing the region.

However, there still lacked a regional official security and defense summit, which the Shangri-La Dialogue came into being.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is attended by defense ministers, military chiefs, as well as high-ranking defense officials, and discusses security issues directly at both multilateral and bilateral levels.

Over the years, the topics of the dialogue have also expanded from security and traditional threats, to food and energy security, natural disasters, terrorism, piracy and other non-traditional areas, which revealed the forum's growing significance in promoting regional security cooperation.

However, in recent years, the dialogue has become better known for its strong military insights.

In response, Chen Gang, senior research fellow with the East Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore, told Xinhua that this is because military officials are more straightforward in expressing their views and stances.

"Unlike diplomatic representatives, military delegates are more direct in their remarks and the media coverage gives the world such an impression. However, whether there is such a strong confrontation between the states, I think everyone should react calmly."

In fact, besides the dialogue's plenary and special sessions, there are also numerous bilateral and trilateral meetings between defense ministers and their delegations, as well as multilateral lunches hosted by Singapore's defence minister.

These meetings provide opportunities for advancing understanding and cooperation on defence and security in the region.

"The Shangri-La Dialogue is a bridge, it creates opportunities for military officials to meet and discuss security issues. Most of the time, especially in the open sessions, it may seems like they're just expressing their own stances, or even just debating with each other, yet at the close-door meetings, they can communicate directly with each other, which more or less will strengthen cooperation and mutual trust," Koh said.

Koh's opinion is echoed by Cheng. "Although sometimes we may find that communication has some obstacles, it is because of such access to multiple communication channels, the parties' mutual trust and communication is greatly strengthened," he added.

This year, the countries will come together to discuss issues including those pertaining to the South China Sea and those on the Korean peninsula, moreover, they will focus on other security problems, including terrorism, illegal trafficking, as well as piracy and cyber threats.

Besides disputes, countries in the region have a lot more potential to collaborate in such areas.

Tim Huxley, Executive Director of IISSAsia, wrote in an article ahead of the dialogue that this year's debate will be "at least as intense and as interesting as in previous years," but "we also intend and hope that the governments involved will be able to use the opportunity presented by the Dialogue to find common ground and to advance their practical cooperation and confidence-building in the interests of regional peace and stability."

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