The Shangri-La Dialogue seems to have been the place where the US can demonstrate the strength of its alliance system and where some members can express their arrogance in civilized tones. Senior officials sent by the US, Australia and Japan talked about rules as defined by their own interests. They regarded China and the South China Sea as one of the focal points of their conversations, expressing their disapproval or criticism over China’s security policies at varying degrees.
China sends a delegation to attend the Dialogue every year. China has shown a great deal of patience. However, remarks made by Chinese delegates including, "Close-in reconnaissance does not belong to the scope of freedom of navigation,” and “Rules are not defined by a single country,” probably did not reach them, since Western media outlets are known to spread arguments unfavorable to China.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in his speech, "Where we have overlapping interests, again I say, we seek to cooperate with China as much as possible. And where we disagree, we will seek to manage competition responsibly because we recognize how important US -China relations are for the stability of Asia-Pacific.”
China could easily accept this attitude if it really was the true attitude of the US regarding the security issues of the regions surrounding China. China also hopes that responsibly managing competition between China and the US, as well as among all involved parties, will become the overall theme for the collective endeavors of all countries in the region.
Maritime disputes, stemming out of historical issues, do indeed exist among West Pacific countries. China is involved in some of those disputes due to its massive coastline. Many countries in the region share the common aspiration of solving or managing disputes by peaceful means.
On the other hand, the involvement of outside powers has posed a potential security problem, something more serious than what the actual maritime disputes inside the region were to begin with. It is clear that the US has formed a strategic alliance against China by enlisting Australia, along with its Asian ally, Japan. The US also has military cooperative forces in the region that are aimed at China.
Mattis said the US remains fully engaged with its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. But does the US feel it is being aggressive? If China were to form a comprehensive alliance with some of its allies in the region, would the US regard the move as a threat against its alliance?
The US and its allies may believe it is urgent to strengthen their alliances as China continues to rise and increase military growth, and yet China is forced to take precautions by such alliances. This is precisely a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation. While it is hard to know the answer, it is easy to understand that in order for the Asia-Pacific region to maintain long-term peace and stability, all countries involved need to practice restraint rather than intensifying the situation and boosting their own sense of security against another country’s sense of insecurity.
Australia and Japan once enjoyed having prime status in the Asia Pacific region, a level directly under the US. They now feel their current status dwarfed since China's rise, and find it hard to cope with this restructuring of power. Thus they like to refer to their past privileges as "rules" and gripe about China's new far-reaching influence.
China has shown how thoughtful it can be to those countries that have yet to adjust to a rising power. Nor has it sought confrontation against the US for seeking out deeper alliances with its allies in the region.
However, China does have a bottom line and will not sit back in the face of potential security threats. For example, China will definitely react against any provocative activities, such as close-up reconnaissance efforts that threaten the country’s security. The US and its allies better anticipate such reactions in order to avoid any kind of direct confrontation.
Security should always be mutual. In a world where even non-national forces can pose a severe threat, security can only be a common goal of the international community, rather than remaining within the realm of unilateral interest. It is sincerely hoped that the US, Japan and Australia can enhance common grounds with China. After all, security throughout the Asia Pacific region is a common goal for all countries in the region.