Shangri-La Dialogue Ends Extraordinary Meeting
BY WENDELL MINNICK
SINGAPORE - A regional agreement for dealing with natural disasters underscored the ascension of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the 7th annual edition of which was held here May 30-June 1, to a leading position in discussions of Asia-Pacific security.
Sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), 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.
Run by the nongovernmental IISS, the Dialogue is an unusual place to find top-tier decision-makers.
"The conference in effect functions as a security institution and has helped shape the regional strategic debate," said Nigel Inkster, director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk, IISS. "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."
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 the foreign humanitarian aid to enter where and when needed; and that the state affected should have control over and supervision of incoming aid.
"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. "At past Shangri-La Dialogues, for example, new intergovernmental arrangements for maritime security in the Malacca Straits have been agreed, and the conditions for the establishment of a hotline between the U.S. Pentagon and the Chinese government," he said.
Speeches were made by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates; U.S. Sen. Joseph Liberman; Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the Chinese deputy chief of the General Staff, People's Liberation Army; South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-Hee; U.S. Adm. Timothy Keating, commander, Pacific Command; Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono; Col. Gen. Pran Trung Kien, Vietnam deputy minister of defense; Japan Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba; and Maj. Gen. Aye Myint, Myanmar deputy minister of defense.
Richard Armitage, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, presented a paper on strategies for resolving proliferation challenges; Yu Hong, counselor and director, Department of Asian Affairs, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, talked about maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific; and M.M. Pallam Raju, Indian minister of state for defense, discussed defense policy formulation.
"This event has no peer in Asia," said Gates. "We all make time to come here because the Dialogue offers an unbeatable mix: cutting-edge topics, world-renowned experts, and senior security officials working together for three days."
On June 1, Singapore Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean discussed how the Dialogue has shaped perceptions and behavior.
"Over the years, the Shangri-La Dialogue has facilitated discussions on specific issues such as maritime security in the Malacca Strait over a number of meetings, leading to a consensus over a set of common principles and the successful 'Eyes in the Sky' initiative for combined maritime air patrols," said Teo.
Teo met with defense leaders and officials from 24 countries on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, including Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak, Malaysian deputy prime minister and minister of defense; French Defense Minister Hervé Morin; Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama; Mongolian Defense Minister Jamiyandorj Batkhuyag; and Gates.
The future U.S. role was a matter of discussion at the Dialogue. Gates stated the next administration would no doubt face the same issues and pursue the same goals present and past White House administrations have pursued.
"While I cannot predict the specifics of a new president's Asia policy, certain elements can already be discerned above and beyond the time-tested principles of strategic access, freedom of commerce and navigation, and freedom from domination by any hegemonic force or coalition," said Gates.
"The next U.S. administration seems certain to continue the overlapping, long-standing, security partnerships I outlined. It will also inherit an agenda of especially worrying issues," he said. "This means no change in our drive to temper North Korea's ambitions, a policy not possible without China's valued cooperation. Beyond this center stage issue, I suspect that the new administration will also find strategic inspiration in America's dual role - as a resident power and as the 'straddle power' across the Pacific."
The next U.S. administration was noted in the keynote address, given by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who sees some continuation of issues, but also sees new challenges and uncertainties.
"Singapore has no votes, but we have our wish list," he said.
The wish list includes continued U.S. commitment to globalization, free trade and international rules; pursuing constructive relations with China; actively cultivating its diverse interests in the Asia Pacific, especially in Southeast Asia; remaining steadfast in the fight against terrorism; and taking a long-term approach toward Iraq and Afghanistan.
"America's role is especially crucial in engaging a rising Asia and integrating it into the global system. The emerging powers in Asia should have greater stakes in the existing international order," said Lee.