BARBS TRADED BETWEEN CHINA AND THE WEST
Whether directly or otherwise, the US and its partners at SLD22 – Japan, Australia, the UK and the Netherlands – pointed their fingers at China for “its unilateral attempts to change the status quo” and its “more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims”.
During his turn to address the conference, Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe dismissed these as “smearing accusations”. Such barbs traded between China and Western powers have been somewhat of a trademark at previous Shangri-La Dialogues, but the latest ones underscore the worsening tensions and distrust among the major powers.
Ironically, “peace” was the most mentioned word in Wei’s remarks as he extolled China’s “peaceful development” and claimed that China has never invaded any country since its founding, the same refrain from his SLD2019 speech.
Wei, however, likely found in SLD22 a more critical and difficult audience that hardly bought into his proselytising about the Chinese vision of a global community with a shared future, given China’s difficulties in handling territorial disputes with its own neighbours.
He was evasive or blamed other countries when questioned by the audience about Chinese actions in the South China Sea and on the China-India land border. On this, the counsel by Singapore’s Ng at SLD22’s closing session likely resonated with many: “All Asian countries should match our deeds with our words if we are to avoid a calamity like Ukraine.”
DOMINANT MESSAGES ABOUT DETERRENCE AND HARD POWER
Russia’s war in Ukraine also set the tone for messages about deterrence and hard power to dominate at SLD22, notwithstanding the usual rhetoric about the importance of dialogue and diplomacy.