Sunday, October 4, 2009

China Expands Presence at Shangri-La Dialogue



China Expands Presence at Shangri-La Dialogue


SINGAPORE — A regional agreement for deal­ing with natural disasters underscored the ascension of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the seventh annual edition of which was held here May 30-June 1, to a leading position in discussions of Asia-Pacific security.

Largely a reaction to the Myanmar gov­ernment’s slack response to the recent flooding, the agreement include three prin­ciples: that the state government should re­act quickly and responsibly to a natural dis­aster within its borders; that the state should allow foreign humanitarian aid to enter where and when needed; and that the state affected should have control over and su­pervision of incoming aid.

China upped its participation in the annu­al event, sending a bevy of senior diplomats and military officers.

In the past, China had reservations about participating in the Dialogue and sent only junior delegations, said Nigel Inkster, di­rector of transnational threats and political risk for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which sponsored the Dialogue.

“But last year, they took a policy decision to upgrade their delegation, which was led by PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Zhang Qinsheng, and have sent a delegation at the same level this year,” Inkster said.

Led by Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, Chinese PLA deputy chief of the General Staff, the dele­gation included Yu Hong, director of the De­partment of Asian Affairs, Ministry of For­eign Affairs; and Maj. Gen. Jia Xiaoning, deputy chief, Foreign Affairs Office, Ministry of National Defense. China sent four non­governmental academic delegates, including Zhuang Jianzhong, vice director, Center for National Strategy Studies, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“[It’s] also good to see the questions aimed at the Chinese were a bit tougher this time and that Ma did not avoid them all — he did­n’t necessarily fully answer them all, but was better than his predecessor last year, who avoided everything,” said Ralph Cossa, pres­ident of the Pacific Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

During his speech, Ma defended China’s military modernization efforts and disputed suggestions by those who insinuate China is a threat to the region.

Ma attacked regional missile defense ef­forts, saying they destabilize the status quo. Both Japan and Taiwan are moving forward on broader ballistic missile defense systems that include Patriot Advanced Capability ­3 missiles and advanced long-range, phased ­array radar systems.

Zhuang, of the Center for National Strate­gy Studies in Shanghai, reinforced Ma’s line of thinking.

“If Japan and Australia develop a theater missile defense system, it will certainly reduce the deterrent forces of China. Japan can say it is against North Korea, but it’s not the right time to do this,” he said. “We want to solve the North Korea issue by peaceful means.” Zhuang said North Korea is not as threat­ ening as it was two years ago: “It is now re­ducing, but the U.S. and Japan are increas­ing missile defense capabilities. And China is strongly against Taiwan getting PAC-3s.” China is now fielding new Dong Feng 31A mobile intercontinental ballistic mis­siles that could allow Beijing to shoot and scoot while it destroyed Washington. Chi­na is also building more ballistic missile submarines.

Michael McDevitt, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, says Ma’s arguments are illogical.

“He essentially argued that the reason that BMD was destabilizing is because it changes the balance of power by reducing the vul­nerability of Japan and Taiwan,” said McDe­vitt, now director of the Center for Strategic Studies, Alexandria, Va. “In other words, as long as these two countries can’t defend themselves against Chinese missiles, the bal­ance of power is just fine as far as Beijing is concerned. But if they defend themselves, that is bad. This is hardly a way to reassure the region that Chinese intentions are be­nign, and that they would never use force to intimidate neighboring countries.” Ministers speaking at the dialogue had mixed reactions to China’s increasing military power. Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said he recognizes China’s difficulties in governing the largest country in the world and does not believe China is a threat to the region.

“At the same time,” he said, “we would like to urge China to further enhance the transparency of its mil­itary capabilities and their purpose.” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted China’s pivotal role in influencing North Korea to temper its nuclear weapon ambitions.


China-Taiwan relations were an unofficial backdrop to the con­ference.

Chinese, Taiwanese and U.S. del­egates expressed both hope and fear that new negotiations by China and Taiwan could end in either dé­tente or disaster.

In his speech, Ma made the per­functory threats against Taiwan se­cessionist forces, but also acknowl­edged new engagement talks be­tween Beijing and Taipei started with the recent election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

Taiwan did not have official gov­ernment representation since it is not recognized as a country. How­ever, IISS “guests” from Taiwan in­cluded Lin Fu-kuo, Institute of In­ternational Relations, National Chengchi University; Andrew N.D. Yang, Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies; and Philip Yang, Na­tional Taiwan University.

Yang views this as a precarious balancing act for Taiwan.

“On one side, Ma wants engage­ment and on the other Ma wants to be close to the U.S. I certainly hope Ma’s group sends a team to the Bush government to talk about the issues. The U.S. is extremely concerned about Ma’s overall agenda. The U.S. wants reassurance,” he said.

There are fears in Washington that Taiwan will open up too quickly to China, particularly with efforts to be­gin direct flights across the strait and sign economic accords. “The worst case scenario is the process will re­sult in eventual unification,” Yang said. “Taiwan has to make it abun­dantly clear that enhancing eco­nomic ties will not be linked to Tai­wan’s security and defense.” Japanese delegates attending the Dialogue are also concerned about Taiwan opening up too fast. Masashi Nishihara, president, Re­search Institute for Peace and Se­curity, Tokyo, is troubled about dis­cussions of creating a common mar­ket between China and Taiwan.

“China may use this to push its own interests. China might say to Taiwan, ‘If you are going to get weapons from the U.S., then no agreement.’ Taiwan will then back off from the U.S.,” he said.

Forum’s Influence Grows

This year’s Dialogue featured de­fense ministers and secretaries from Australia, Canada, France, India, In­donesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“At this Shangri-La, we have brought together the largest group ever, with more ministers from more countries than before,” said John Chipman, IISS director-gener­al and chief executive.

“The conference in effect func­tions as a security institution and has helped shape the regional strategic debate,” Inkster said. “An example of the kind of outcomes it can produce is the decision yester­day by regional defense ministers to agree to some principles for dealing with natural disasters.” Past Dialogues have ushered in new arrangements for maritime se­curity in the Malacca Strait and a hot line between the U.S. Pentagon and the Chinese government.

In addition to Gates, Ma and Ishiba, speeches were made by U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman; South Ko­rean Defense Minister Lee Sang­Hee; U.S. Navy Adm. Timothy Keat­ing, commander, Pacific Command; Indonesian Defense Minister Ju­wono Sudarsono; Col. Gen. Pran Trung Kien, Vietnam deputy minis­ter of defense; and Maj. Gen. Aye Myint, Myanmar deputy minister of defense.