As China rises, Asia eyes better channels for security talks
The visit by Secretary of Defense Gates to Singapore highlights Asia's lack of a strong forum for regional security talks. Asian countries are also wary of being squeezed between the US and a rising China.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Despite a proliferation of global summits, the annual Shangri-La Dialog that ended Sunday in Singapore has become an essential stop for military chiefs in Asia and beyond. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on his final Asian tour, addressed the forum, as did his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie, who defended China’s military buildup.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But the forum’s success is partly a reflection of the creaky foundations for security cooperation in Asia. Organized by the Institute for International Strategic Studies in London, the Shangri-La Dialog has become an unofficial gathering of Asia’s top brass and intelligence officials and those of outside powers like the US, Britain, and Russia. Mr. Gates and Mr. Liang held a bilateral meeting, one of several conducted on the sidelines.
Security analysts point out, however, that Asia still lacks an effective forum for multilateral diplomacy on regional security issues, such as the disputed South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear proliferation. A lack of a such a forum could make it more difficult to head off conflicts in a region with rapidly expanding militaries and unsettled political conflicts.
In recent years, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has tried to act as a fulcrum for wider Asian cooperation by hosting meetings with outside powers, including the US and European Union. Analysts say its loose structure make ASEAN summits long on symbolism and short on substance, while providing a neutral space for talks between regional rivals like China and Japan.
The next test for regional diplomacy
The next test will come in October when Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN, hosts the East Asian Summit, a body which recently expanded its membership to 18 countries, including the US and Russia. Indonesian diplomats have sought to lay the groundwork to make the EAS a more substantive meeting on social and economic issues.