By Wendell Minnick, TAIPEI
The sixth Asia Security Summit, dubbed the “Shangri-La Dialogue,” which begins June 1 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, will focus on U.S. and Asia Pacific security, the emergence of China and India as superpowers, nuclear challenges, counterterrorism, regional maritime security and security cooperation in Asia.
This year’s three-day event, hosted by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS), will be the largest since the summit began in 2002, with 26 countries sending representatives: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
Defense ministers and political leaders attending this year’s summit will include U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Lt. Gen. Zhang Qisheng, Chinese Army chief of General Staff; Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony; Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama; Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh; Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma; U.K. Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram; and Francis Delon, France’s general secretary of national defense.
Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow in the Asian International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, said that, for the most part, the summit is an opportunity for “networking and senior-level speeches to reaffirm commitment to regional affairs and to send messages to Asia-Pacific governmental and interested communities.”
Gates Comes Calling
On his way to the summit, Gates dropped by Hawaii on May 31 to visit the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) to discuss security issues with Adm. Timothy Keating, PACOM commander. While visiting Camp H.M. Smith, Gates told reporters that the United States has “no intention of neglecting Asia” while U.S. forces fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gates thanked supporting countries in the region for contributing to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism, including Australia, Fiji, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Tonga.
His attendance at the summit comes on the heels of the release of the annual Pentagon report on China’s military modernization efforts. Gates is expected to raise the China military issue during his keynote speech on June 2.
Mitchell believes that China’s military build-up will be the main item on the U.S. agenda, “with focus, as always, on transparency of intent, budget and doctrine, and concerns about impact on regional balance of power.”
Ironically, China and South Korea may use the transparency issue to “question Japan’s military transparency, although with China’s new high road toward Japan after [Chinese Premier] Wen Jiabao’s visit, they may leave these comments to non-officials or to Seoul. North Korea will likely again be a source of intense concern and discussion,” said Mitchell.
Michael Green, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and former senior director for Asia on the U.S. National Security Council staff, said, “Big themes this time in the region will be the Chinese ASAT [anti-satellite] test, the burgeoning new defense cooperation between Australia and Japan based on the Abe-Howard security agreement, India’s growing presence with the trilateral Malabar exercises (U.S.-Japan-India) and the bilateral Indian-PLA [People’s Liberation Army] exercises, both in March.”
U.S. foreign policy and strategy in Asia, particularly with China, might be compared with Shangri-La, the magical utopia in the 1933 James Hilton novel, “Lost Horizon.” Critics say there is too much fantasy in Washington circles in which China is painted as a threat to U.S. interests. Fantasy and contradiction appear to be Washington’s only policy on Beijing.
The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson said China’s recent anti-satellite (ASAT) test took Washington by surprise, but feels that the ASAT threat is overblown.
“The Chinese anti-satellite test was a wake-up call for U.S. policymakers who think space assets are secure, but it did not demonstrate much sophistication in the use of such weapons,” he said. “All the Chinese have proven is that they can destroy reconnaissance satellites in low earth orbit if they don’t mind littering orbital planes with a lot of debris. Satellites in higher orbits, like our communications nodes, would be much harder to destroy.”
Thompson also sees a “Catch-22” with Washington policy and attitudes toward Beijing.
“The Bush administration’s view of the Chinese military challenge is hard to fathom,” he said. “On the one hand, the administration continuously cites the dangers posed by China’s military buildup. On the other hand, it does little to slow the migration of U.S. industrial capabilities to the People’s Republic. The indifference to burgeoning U.S. investment and trade with China does not suggest urgent concern about the military threat.”