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The Shangri-La Dialogue: Lots of Talk, Few Answers

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07.06.2017

It’s June, and that means a gaggle of defense ministers, officials, and analysts recently flocked to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to hear the United States and its allies bash China. This year did not disappoint. The major difference from some previous years was that China wisely sent a relatively low-level delegation to hear their country’s policies and actions be criticized.

Lost in the bluster and bravado were fundamental questions regarding the strategic future of Asia.

The United States, Japan, and Australia seemed to be reading from the same script. They excoriated China for unilateral actions incompatible with the “rules-based order”; militarizing disputed features in the South China Sea; bullying and showing “contempt” for its neighbors; and being an implied threat to “freedom of navigation.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, in obvious reference to China, “We oppose countries militarizing artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims. We cannot and will not accept unilateral coercive changes to the status quo.” But he did not define the “status quo” nor say if and how the United States would roll back the changes China and others — including the United States– have made to it.

Perhaps his most controversial remark — at least for China — was his reference to the steadfast U.S. commitment to “working with Taiwan… to provide the defense articles necessary.” Given the bellicose context of his remarks, China may interpret this as a signal that the United States is preparing to strengthen defense ties with Taiwan and that another arms sale to it is in the works.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull asserted – again with clear reference........

© The Diplomat