The annual Shangri-La Dialogue kicked off in Singapore last Friday. Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan attended the event and made a speech, raising observers’ expectations on this year’s Dialogue.
This is the first time for China’s defense chief to attend the Dialogue in eight years, showing Beijing’s willingness to communicate with all sides over security issues. With China-US relations becoming tense, new uncertainties loom large in the region. How Beijing and Washington deal with their differences will affect the dynamics in East Asia and beyond.
The strong military presence of the US in Asia is reality. The problem is that the US has been hyping this presence in recent years and is using it to contain China’s rise. Such strategic orientation of the US has become the largest source of threats to regional peace and stability.
The most disputed area in East Asia is the South China Sea. With the progress in negotiations on the Code of Conduct, a military clash is less likely. China and other stakeholders have shown their willingness to manage maritime disputes, making friendly cooperation overwhelm territorial disputes.
On the other hand, the US is obsessed with instigation and provocation, as its East Asia policy needs a somewhat chaotic and disputable South China Sea. Washington is trying to make regional countries believe that confronting China and acting as the US’ geopolitical lever suits their interests better.
Another focal point in East Asia is the Taiwan Straits. The radical Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan coordinates with the US’ China strategy and keeps provoking the Chinese mainland, which intensifies the situation across the Taiwan Straits.
The US attaches importance to the Indo-Pacific strategy which could immensely satisfy Washington’s ambition to contain China. However, relevant countries have made complementary interpretations of this concept that fit their own interests.
After defining China as its strategic competitor, Washington wanted to set up an alliance or a united front from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean to counter China. But it suffered a major setback in the South China Sea, the core area of such a US strategy. China has engaged in more candid and effective conflict management efforts with stakeholder countries, which embarrassed the US which came to tout zero-sum confrontations.
It also proves that China has no expansion ambitions. Engaging in cooperation is the consistent diplomatic thinking to extend national interests and seek win-win results.
International relations are complicated. As a powerful force, the US making waves in Asia will only make it more difficult for regional countries to safeguard their interests. All Asian countries, including China, should understand each other and prevent confrontations incited by Washington. None should indulge in geopolitical games.