Asia's Premier Security Forum: Navigating Tensions in the Indo-Pacific

Government leaders, defense officials, and diplomats convene in Singapore for Asia's top security forum amid rising tensions between the US and China. The forum comes at a time of increasing naval assertiveness by China in the South China Sea and the US's military exercises aimed at maintaining freedom of navigation. Key figures, including US and Chinese defense ministers, are expected to meet to discuss reducing tensions.

PTI | Singapore | Updated: 31-05-2024 08:02 IST | Created: 31-05-2024 08:02 IST
Asia's Premier Security Forum: Navigating Tensions in the Indo-Pacific
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Government leaders, defence officials and diplomats from around the world are gathering in Singapore for Asia's premier security forum this weekend, at a time of increasing tension and competition for influence between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Beijing in recent years has been rapidly expanding its navy and is becoming growingly assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to an increasing number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.

The US, meantime, has been ramping up military exercises in the region with its allies to underscore its "free and open Indo-Pacific" concept, meant to emphasise freedom of navigation through the contested waters, including the Taiwan Strait.

China also claims the democratic self-governing island of Taiwan, and has said it would not rule out using force to take it.

Since territorial hostilities with China surged last year in the South China Sea, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s administration has taken steps to forge new security alliances with a number of Asian and Western countries and allowed a US military presence in more Philippine bases under a 2014 defence pact.

Marcos opens this year's Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, with a keynote address on Friday.

This week, Marcos already expressed concerns over a new law issued by China giving its coast guard license to seize foreign ships "that illegally enter China's territorial waters" and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The same law also made new reference to 2021 legislation that says China's coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.

With Philippines ships now regularly confronted by the Chinese, there are concerns that a low-level confrontation could lead to an escalation, said Eugene Tan, a professor of international law at the Singapore Management University.

"I don't think these countries are really looking to go to war with each other, but the concern with these skirmishes is that sometimes when you have a miscalculation, then things could rapidly deteriorate into the use of force," he said.

"And I think the last thing that countries in the region would want, particularly as they focus on the post-pandemic recovery, would be to have a regional conflict at the doorstep." This year's conference comes just a week after China held massive military drills around Taiwan, staging a simulated blockade of the island after it inaugurated a new government that refuses to accept Beijing's insistence that the island is part of China.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must come under its control, by force if necessary.

The US, like most countries, does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is bound by its own laws to provide the island with the means to defend itself. The US called China's military exercises "reckless''.

Bilateral contact between the American and Chinese militaries broke down in 2022 after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, infuriating Beijing.

That has slowly been re-established in recent months, and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defence Minister Dong Jun, who are both attending the Shangri-La dialogue, were expected to meet with each other on Friday even before the forum begins.

It will be the first face-to-face meeting the two have had since direct talks broke down, though they have spoken previously by phone.

Tan said he wouldn't expect any breakthroughs from the talks, but that it was important that the two were in direct contact to "reduce the temperature" between the two countries.

"We would probably be expecting too much of the Shangri-La dialogue to expect any sort of concrete moves forward," he said. "The Shangri-La dialogue is really providing the opportunity for very incremental steps in trust and confidence building." Austin is due to address the forum on Saturday morning, while Dong will on Sunday, the final day.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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