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Shangri-La Latest: Asia Seeks to Stay Out of US-China Crossfire

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/12/2022 Alfred Cang and Philip J. Heijmans
The Marina Bay Sands beyond Merlion Park in the central business district of Singapore, on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. In the financial mecca of Singapore, technology companies have been steadily growing their footprint in recent years, chipping away at the dominance of banks in the island-state's central business district. © Bloomberg The Marina Bay Sands beyond Merlion Park in the central business district of Singapore, on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. In the financial mecca of Singapore, technology companies have been steadily growing their footprint in recent years, chipping away at the dominance of banks in the island-state's central business district.

(Bloomberg) -- Asian defense chiefs urged efforts to protect the borders of smaller nations in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while balking at joining in on the broader US-China tussle. 

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Ministers of smaller nations such as Fiji and Singapore warned against framing the crisis as part of an ideological contest between autocracies and democracies as the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue wrapped up in Singapore. Earlier Sunday, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe hit back at the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which he blamed for pushing the two sides toward confrontation. 

Both the US and China are using Asia’s biggest annual security conference to drum up support for their competing visions for regional stability, even as Ukraine consumes Washington’s attention and Beijing struggles with economic pressures at home.   

Key Developments 

Chinese, Australian Defense Chiefs Break Ice With ‘Frank’ TalksChina Warns of Risk of War Over Taiwan While Pledging PeaceUS Sees Signs of Asian Nations Examining Future Of Russian TiesAustin Urges United Front in Asia to Prevent Repeat of UkraineUS, China Defense Chiefs Tout Progress Despite Taiwan FrictionJapan’s PM Kishida Pledges Expanded Security Role in Asia

(All times Singapore)

Australia, China Defense Chiefs Hold “Frank Talks” (2:23 p.m.)

Australia Defense Minister Richard Marles said he had a “very frank and full exchange” with his Chinese counterpart on Sunday, marking the highest-level meeting between the countries in more than two years amid a flare-up in tensions. 

“This was an important meeting, one in which the Australian government welcomes,” he said. Australia also spoke of its “abiding interest in the Pacific and our concern to ensure that the countries of the Pacific are not put in a position of increased militarization,” Marles added.

Fiji Seeks to Avoid Geopolitical ‘Marriage’ (12:57 p.m.)

Questions about which side Fiji would take in the US-China struggle over the South Pacific have been so frequent, the nation’s defense minister joked that people kept asking him, “When will you get married?”

“We’ve met the Americans. We met the Japanese. We met the Chinese. We met the Australians. You name it,” said Inia Batikoto Seruiratu, Fiji minister for defense, national security and policing. “We all have the sovereign rights to make our own decisions. But at the same time, I will also see benefit from all these relationships that we have, including China.

Few in Asia Ready to Join ‘Battle Royale’ (12:20 p.m.) 

Singapore’s defense chief, Ng Eng Hen, said “there would be few takers for a battle royale” between democracy and autocracy in Asia. Still, he said smaller nations needed to work together to ensure that their sovereignty wasn’t violated by larger powers. 

“For all Asian countries, we must ensure that our deeds match our words if we are to avoid a calamity like Ukraine,” Ng said. 

China’s Behavior ‘Concerning,’ Canada Says (12:19) 

Canada’s defense minister said China’s behavior in a number of areas is “concerning,” Anita Anand said in an interview with Bloomberg News. 

“We have to stand back and examine China’s behavior writ large: concerning behavior in diplomatic relations, concerning behavior in terms of theft of intellectual property, concerning behavior in cyberspace as well as in actual airspace,” Anand told Haslinda Amin on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday. “These are all very worrisome and concerning behaviors.”

Australia Must Respect Pacific Islands’ Needs, Marles Says (11:55 a.m.)

Australia must put Pacific islands nations and their development needs first to repair its relations in the region, Defense Minister Richard Marles said in an interview. Australia should be the “natural partner of choice for the nations of the Pacific,” Marles told Bloomberg Television’s Juliette Saly on Sunday.

“But it’s not something we get by right,” said Marles, who is also the deputy prime minister in the newly elected government. “We need to earn it.”

Netherlands Says US-China Dialog of Utmost Importance (10:32 a.m.)

Netherlands Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said the speech by China’s defense chief Wei Fenghe showed that dialog was more important. 

She said US and China having talks is of the utmost importance, adding that the European Union valued discussions with Beijing. 

World Divided on Basis of Who is Committed to Rules-Based Order, Sedwill Says (10:15 a.m.)

The dividing line for countries is not between democracies and autocracies but rather on those who share a commitment to rules-based global order and those who do not, said Mark Sedwill, a former UK cabinet secretary. He said the UK will increase its military presence in Asia. 

South Korea Says Bilateral Issues With Japan Remain Unresolved (9:51 a.m.)

South Korea National Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said bilateral issues with Japan remain unresolved. The country intends to engage in serious dialog with Japan.

Read more: Japan, South Korea Look to Repair Ties Ahead of Biden Visit

Lee said assessments show that North Korea has completed preparations for the nuclear test. 

China Criticizes US Plans for Indo-Pacific Plans (8:45 a.m.)

Video: IISS: US China Tensions Key Focus At 'Shangri-La Dialogue 2022' (Bloomberg)

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe warned that the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy was pushing the world’s two largest economies toward confrontation.

“To us, the strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo-Pacific, to hijack countries in our region and target one specific country,” Wei said in a roughly 30-minute speech. “It is a strategy to create conflict and confrontation to contain and encircle others.”

US Navy Commander Blames China, Russia and North Korea for Global Instability (6:05 p.m.)

The US’s top commander in the Pacific said he believed the world was experiencing “potentially the most dangerous period” since World War Two, and urged greater measures to prevent miscalculation and miscommunication. Admiral John Aquilino blamed China’s “destabilizing actions” and “failure to respect agreements” in Hong Kong and disputes on the Indian border, alongside Russia and North Korea for contributing to global instability.

“These aggressive behaviors are escalating tensions,” the Indo-Pacific Command chief said. “They’re increasing the potential for miscalculation, and hence the topic of crisis communications is completely relevant based on that security environment.”

Germany Says War in Ukraine Fueling Environmental Damage (5:40 p.m.)

The Russian war in Ukraine is threatening to cause environmental damage to the tune of billions of euros, said Tobias Lindner, Germany’s Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office.

“We have talked about the security risks of climate change, but there is also climate risk that comes from war,” he said in a special session on climate security and green defense. 

Lindner said some the risks from the war include near strikes on nuclear plants and toxic waste in the Sea of Azov.

Malaysia Wants Transparent Assessments on Myanmar (5:32 p.m.)

Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, a vocal critic of Myanmar’s military regime, said there should be transparent assessments on situation in the country.

He also wanted to see more regional initiatives to protect civilians, especially the mostly-Muslim Rohingya people.

The situation in Myanmar remains a top priority for the Biden administration, Department of State Counselor Derek Chollet said. The US is seeking to support democracy and put pressure on military forces, he added.

Ukraine Leader Quotes Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew in Russia Criticism (4:32 p.m.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed defense officials via video link, evoking the words of the late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew while he criticized Russia for trying to dismantle the international order.

“I want to remind you of the words of a person whom you know very well -- if there had been no international law, and the big fish ate the small fish and the small fish ate shrimps, we would not have existed,’ he said. 

“These are the wise words of Lee Kuan Yew, the leader who was perspicacious enough to see the clear reasons of many things and resources, and who knew exactly what is of value,” he added.

Cambodia Won’t Allow a Foreign Military Base (3:30 p.m.)

Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh said Cambodia is “constantly accused” of having given exclusive rights to the foreigners to use Ream naval base, referring to recent reports that China will be building a secret military facility.

It’s a “problematic accusation” and a complete insult to Cambodia’s authority, said Tea Banh, who is also the defense minister. “The development of this space is not a threat to the security of any country or region whether near or far.”

There should be no surprise that Cambodia cooperates with the People’s Liberation Army, Tea Banh said. The Southeast Asian country reserves the right to receive foreign assistance in the form of military equipment, training of its armed force and other aid for self defense, he said.

US Official Sees Asian Countries Examining Ties with Russia (2:57 p.m.)

Southeast Asian nations with long-standing ties with Russia and who have hesitated to pick sides over Ukraine are increasingly questioning the value of that relationship as the war drags on, US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet said. 

He said recent talks with Asian leaders have revealed new doubts among nations that officially maintain non-alignment in the war.

Australia Says Climate Change To Drive Key Policies (12:20 p.m.)

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said climate change will now factor in the country’s defense planning and diplomacy. 

“People’s lives and livelihoods are increasingly at risk,” said Marles, who is also the minister of defense. “And this in turn, will give rise to new security challenges. 

Marles said Australia’s approach to Beijing will be “steady and consistent,” looking for avenues of cooperation where they exist while recognizing China’s growing power and the manner in which that is shaping the region.

“It is reasonable to expect China make clear it does not support the invasion of a sovereign state in violation of the UN Charter to China’s own long standing principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

Singapore Seeks Peaceful Resolution for Sea Territorial Disputes (11:45 a.m.)

Singapore hopes all parties will “exercise restraint and maintain dialogue” on situations in the East China Sea and South China Sea in order to preserve regional peace and stability, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida. 

“The issues are complex and unlikely to resolve soon, but they should continue to be managed peacefully in accordance with international law,” he said.

Malaysia Flags Soaring Food Prices as a Security Threat  (11:40 a.m.)

Malaysia’s Senior Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said current security threats facing the region are “no longer confined to political factors, they descend to economic considerations.”

The combination of unhappiness from two years of the pandemic and rising food prices have already seen a wave of political instability in countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, he said.  

“Food security is critical to peace and stability,” Hishammuddin said, adding there was a window of opportunity now to strengthen regional groups, 

France Defends Muted European Presence at Forum (10:43 a.m.)

French defense chief Sebastien Lecornu sought to allay concerns that Europe was too distracted with the war in Ukraine to pay attention to Asia-Pacific developments. 

“Sometimes people fear and say that the crisis in Europe and Ukraine might take us away from the Indo-Pacific or might that lead to the French Republic to cut back on some important commitments, even military commitments,” Lecornu said. “This will not be the case.”

Ex-China Envoy to the US Grills Defense Chiefs at Dialogue (10:32 a.m.)

China’s former ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, pushed back on what Beijing sees US-led containment strategy in Asia with a series of pointed questions to defense chiefs. 

“We certainly welcome our European friends to join us for regional stability and prosperity,” Cui said. “But are you ready to respect and appreciate the Asian way of solving problems? Is there any attempt to impose on us the NATO way or the European way?”

Cui went on to put a question to Japan, asking whether the country still intended to dump nuclear waste water into the Pacific as this has caused a lot of concern.

Japan Says China-Russia Ties May Deepen Further (10:20 a.m.)

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said ties between Moscow and Beijing may deepen further as Russia is under intense international sanctions. The joint military activities carried out by the two countries are also a cause for concern, he added. 

Japan has been a peace loving nation since World War II and played by international laws, Kishi said, However, Japan is now surrounded by “actors possessing nuclear weapons” who are more open in their disregard for international rules. 

Indonesia Says War in Ukraine Shows Security Can’t Be Taken for Granted (9:51 a.m.)

Indonesia Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said the situation in Ukraine has shown the Southeast Asian country cannot take its security and independence for granted, laying the case for strengthening defenses.

He said Indonesia is convinced the leaders of great powers realize they have a “big responsibility” on their shoulders.

“We support a rules-based international order because we are the most affected by any order that just relies on big powers” given the region’s colonial past, he said. 

LLoyd Austin Seeks an Asia Free of ‘Bullying’ (8:47 a.m.)

The US Defense Chief said America stands for a world that “respects territorial integrity and political independence,” as well as human rights. 

“We feel the headwinds -- from threats and intimidation -- and the obsolete belief in a world carved up into spheres of influence,” he said, according to remarks as prepared for delivery.  

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