Gates To Give Valedictory Speech at Shangri-La
China Sends Big Delegation
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will deliver a “valedictory speech on lessons learned in Asia” at the 10th Asia Security Summit in Singapore, said a U.S. defense official. Gates has been a regular at the annual summit, dubbed the “Shangri-La Dialogue,” scheduled for June 3-5 in Singapore.
Organized by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Gates helped put the dialogue “on the map as a viable forum for the exchange of ideas on the Asia-Pacific’s security issues,” the U.S. defense official said. U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Robert Willard will also attend, he said.
Though the summit marks Gates’ departure, Shangri-La will witness the attendance of the first Chinese defense minister, Gen. Liang Guanglie, who will lead a “powerful delegation” to the summit and deliver a speech on China’s international security cooperation. In an unprecedented move, there also will be Chinese speakers in three of the five closed-door special sessions, said Tim Huxley, executive director of IISS-Asia.
Liang’s attendance “bumps the stakes up a notch” this year, the U.S. defense official said.
Liang just wrapped up an official four-day visit to the Philippines to discuss with defense officials allegations that Chinese fighter jets and maritime patrol vessels have been entering the disputed Reed Bank. On May 11, two unidentified fighter jets were sighted near an island occupied by Filipino troops.
Liang denies the fighters were Chinese, but countered that Beijing has jurisdiction over the Spratly Islands and adjacent waters.
The topic is bound to be high on the Shangri-La agenda, and China’s increased interest in the summit was evident in March when China released its defense white paper and made “special reference to the importance of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue for regional defense cooperation,” said John Chipman, IISS director-general and chief executive.
Gates and Liang are expected to discuss further efforts to improve military-to-military cooperation and dialogue. The U.S. just concluded meetings in May with senior Chinese defense officials in Washington for the Security and Economic Dialogue, and the Pentagon hosted a separate visit by Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff, People’s Liberation Army.
“U.S.-China relations in the context of a regional distribution of power in long-term flux will remain a key theme” for this summit, Huxley said. “This year the atmospherics may be warmer, but the overall picture is nevertheless one of intensifying strategic rivalry.” Expect “some ill-informed questioning relating to China’s supposed plans to build a naval base” in Gwadar, Pakistan, he said.
Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony will not attend but will send Deputy Defence Minister M.M. Pallam Raju.
“As China ups its game,” the absence again of India’s defense minister “may highlight the determination and relative coherence of China’s regional posture and the contrastingly weak nature of India’s,” Huxley said. “China steps up; India steps down [at Shangri-La]. Of course, if Mr. Antony does show, that might demonstrate India’s recognition of the need to engage more effectively with the region as China asserts itself more.”
The Shangri-La has earned a reputation for solving numerous disputes and building security alliances. Plenary sessions this year will focus on emerging security issues, new military doctrines, defense budgets, territorial disputes, nuclear developments, transnational security, China’s security interests, maritime security issues, confidence building measures and Afghanistan.
Chinese and U.S. delegations will join those of 27 other nations that are also sending top-tier defense and foreign affairs officials. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will deliver the summit’s keynote address, and this will be the first major international event in which Ng Eng Hen participates as Singapore’s defense minister.
The IISS has confirmed leaders attending will include Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith; Mustappa Sirat, Brunei’s deputy minister of defense; Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh; Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro; Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa; Mongolian Defense Minister Luvsanvandan Bold; New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp; Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Tuvera Gazmin; South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin; G.L. Peiris, Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister; Thailand Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon; U.K. Defence Secretary Liam Fox; and Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh.
Other delegates will include NATO Assistant Secretary-General Dirk Brengelmann, Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Sirivudh, East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta, and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.