The Platform

U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, the United States and China laid out competing visions for the world.

At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a key defense summit, significant debates, and discussions unfolded, spotlighting primary regional security concerns. This exclusive meeting allowed global leaders and defense officials to devise effective strategies, revealing the contrasting visions and power dynamics between the United States and China, two influential powers in the Asia Pacific.

The summit focused on the increasing influence of the U.S. and China within the region. The U.S. promoted its extended network of security alliances, while China championed its own partnerships, portraying the U.S. as an external invader in Asia Pacific matters.

The Asia Pacific has become a pivotal area in international affairs, with strategic competition between the U.S. and China shaping geopolitics and determining the future of international relations. Since 2010, China has challenged American hegemony and the U.S.-led international order with its growing strength, military might, and global aspirations. In response, the U.S. has sought to strengthen alliances with neighboring nations to contain China, believing that stability and security in Asia helps ensure America’s stability and security.

As U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin highlighted, this rationale underpins America’s long-standing presence in the region. The strengthening of American regional partnerships, which the U.S. views as crucial for maintaining peace and stability, also poses a threat to Chinese interests and security.

Chinese Defence Minister Dong Jun, in his speech on “China’s Approach to Global Security,” emphasized that China would not only prevent any effort to initiate geopolitical conflicts or warfare in their region but also resist any state or force aiming to instigate regional conflicts and chaos. He criticized the U.S. indirectly, highlighting that a dangerous country was decoupling and building trade barriers, risking conflict. Dong asserted that China prohibits hegemonism and power politics from undermining Asia-Pacific interests.

Addressing Sino-U.S. military relations, Dong Jun stressed the need for both militaries to prevent confrontations, value peace, maintain stability, and find ways to coexist peacefully despite differing development pathways. This, he argued, would promote regional and global confidence. Similarly, Lloyd J. Austin, during his address on “United States’ Strategic Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific,” accentuated the significance of maintaining military communication channels and pledged to increase discussions with China, emphasizing the essential role of dialogue.

Taiwan, holding a crucial strategic position, was a topic of deliberation for both China and the U.S. at the dialogue. Dong asserted that Taiwan is a key interest and warned that any attempt to separate Taiwan from China would be crushed. He criticized the U.S. for “hollowing out the one-China principle” by providing Taiwan with weaponry and encouraging independence efforts. Austin briefly touched upon Taiwan, affirming the U.S. commitment to maintaining the status quo over the Taiwan Strait. He underscored the need for dispute resolution through dialogue rather than coercion or punitive measures.

Regarding the South China Sea, Dong emphasized China’s adherence to safeguarding its interests. Without directly naming the Philippines, he pointed out that a particular state had disregarded bilateral agreements with external backing. Indirectly criticizing the U.S., Dong blamed the Philippines for allowing a state to deploy a mid-range missile system in the region, potentially compromising regional stability and security.

Both nations discussed strengthening partnerships and alliances. Austin proclaimed that alliances enhance U.S. strength and detailed efforts to engage more closely with partners. He highlighted the enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines, improved joint military exercises with Japan and South Korea, and missile defense technology collaborations with Japan. This demonstrates growing U.S. strength through enhanced ties with allies in the defense sector.

As Dong expressed, China’s military is open to collaboration with other states’ militaries to improve security, promote mutual well-being, and contribute to sustainable peace in the Asia Pacific. He emphasized China’s objective to improve existing ties and expand assistance through joint exercises and technological cooperation.

The Shangri-La Dialogue serves as a vital platform for defining the security environment in Asia Pacific, recognizing the importance of global security amid recent instability. The contrasting aspirations of China and the U.S. for the region were highlighted through remarks by Chinese and American defense officials. Amidst the changing geopolitical landscape, the U.S. aims to foster a rules-based order and common security cooperation to safeguard regional interests. In contrast, China opposes external interventions that threaten its core interests, security, and reunification efforts.

Both militaries recognize the need for upholding peace and stability and emphasize mutual cooperation over coercion. Despite differing perspectives on Taiwan and the South China Sea, maintaining clear communication channels is in both parties’ interests.

Malaika Afridi is a graduate of the University of London and currently works as a freelance researcher. She covers inter-state relations, arms control and disarmament, and climate change.