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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.

By Correspondent / June 6, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) shakes hands with China's Defense Minister Liang Guanglie at the 10th International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 3.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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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.

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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

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