Asia security summit begins amid US-China tensions

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SINGAPORE:Asia’s top security meeting opened on Friday, with intensifying competition between the United States and China expected to dominate a weekend of high-level speeches, backroom military dealings and delicate diplomacy.

 

On the sidelines of the three-day Shangri-La Dialogue, which attracts senior military officers, diplomats, arm manufacturers and security analysts from around the globe in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shook hands with China’s Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu but the two did not have a “substantive exchange”, according to the Pentagon.

 

In a video posted on Twitter by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Austin was seen smiling while shaking hands with Li around a dinner table. In a statement, the Pentagon said the two spoke only briefly.

 

“The department believes in maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication with the PRC and will continue to seek meaningful military-to-military discussions at multiple levels to responsibly manage the relationship,” Pentagon spo­k­esman General Pat Ryder said, referring to China by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.

 

China earlier declined a formal meeting with Austin during the Shangri-La security summit, as relations between both countries have been tense.

 

Greater engagement

 

In his keynote address at the opening of the security summit, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called for greater engagement between the United States and China, saying a breakdown in dialogue between the superpowers could have devastating consequences for the world.

 

Albanese said he supported US President Joe Biden’s efforts to open channels of communication with China.

 

“If you don’t have the pressure valve of dialogue … then there is always a much greater risk of assumptions spilling over into irretrievable action and reaction,” he told a ballroom, packed with defence officials and diplomats from across the world.

 

“The consequences of such a breakdown whether in the Taiwan Strait or elsewhere — would not be confined to the big powers or the site of their conflict, they would be devastating for the world,” he added.

 

Intensifying competition between the US and China is expected to dominate proceedings at the summit. China’s Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu had this week declined an invitation to meet there with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

 

As Austin and Li are set to address the summit over the weekend, the two are expected to exchange barbs over a wide range of issues.

 

Improved relations

 

Albanese’s comments come as Australia is seeking to stabilise its own relationship with China after a three-year diplomatic freeze and trade blocks that Beijing is now easing.

 

China buys the bulk of Australia’s valuable iron ore and is its biggest trading partner.

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