China Expands Presence at Shangri-La Dialogue
By WENDELL MINNICK
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.