Warnings of a third geopolitical shock

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 11 Jun 2024

This year’s Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore warned of the consequences of the war in Ukraine and the competition between the US and China for international security, writes Hussein Haridy


Addressing the 21st Shangri-La Security Dialogue held from 31 May to 2 June in Singapore, the country’s minister of defence said that the world cannot withstand a third geopolitical shock after the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. He was talking in the context of the international and regional security situation with a particular stress on the Asia-Pacific region.

This year’s Security Dialogue was held under the theme of “Re-Imagining Solutions for Global Peace and Regional Stability.” Its opening coincided with remarks made by US President Joe Biden in Washington regarding a partial roadmap to end the war in Gaza. “This war must stop,” Biden said.

The Security Dialogue centred on US-Chinese competition in the Asia-Pacific and the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an unscheduled appearance and adopted a combative attitude, particularly against China. One might have expected that a head of state would use diplomatic language to convey his message when speaking about other countries. But not the president of Ukraine.

Zelensky accused China of doing Russia’s bidding by exerting pressure on other countries not to attend a peace conference that the Swiss government will host on 15-16 June in Geneva to discuss how to bring peace to Ukraine in the absence of Russian participation. No official invitation has been extended to Moscow to attend the conference.

Zelensky claimed that China has become an “instrument” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that “it is unfortunate that such a big, independent, powerful country as China is an instrument in the hands of Putin.” Perhaps he will regret making these baseless accusations in the future.

He laid the blame on what he called Chinese support for Russia for the continuation of the war in Ukraine. At a later press conference, one reporter enquired why Zelensky had decided to participate in the dialogue. He replied that he was seeking political, economic, and financial support to strengthen Ukraine in order to end the war in his country.

The other major question before the Security Dialogue was the confrontation and competition between the US and China in the Asia-Pacific region. The defence ministers of both countries attended the dialogue, and each delivered remarks on the issues that separate Washington and Beijing, namely the South China Sea, Taiwan, and freedom of navigation in international waterways and on the high seas.

Unlike during the 20th edition of the dialogue last June, this year US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin met on the sidelines with newly appointed Chinese Defence Minister Dong Jun. The face-to-face meeting came as a result of an agreement between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping last November in California.

In his remarks, Dong Jun vowed that his country would take “resolute actions” against Taiwan’s independence. He stressed that China would not hesitate to oppose any move by the Taiwanese in this respect and spoke of the “self-destruction” of anyone who risked the independence of Taiwan.

Austin talked about a “new convergence” of security links in the Asia-Pacific region that are overlapping and make up “complimentary initiatives and institutions.” He spoke of the US strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific from the AUKUS alliance to the trilateral security and defence cooperation of the US, Japan, and South Korea and an agreement on mutual defence with the Philippines.

Regarding the latter, the keynote speaker was President Ferdinand Marcos Jr of the Philippines, whose remarks revolved around the growing rift with China in the South China Sea. He went as far as to say that the loss of life of one soldier in the army of his country would be almost tantamount to a declaration of war and attacked what he termed China’s “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive actions” in the region.

Although the Security Dialogue in Singapore this year was mostly about Asia-Pacific security issues and US-Chinese strategic competition, the war in Gaza was present in the remarks of the two Muslim nations that participated, namely Indonesia and Malaysia.

On 1 June, Indonesian Defence Minister and President-elect Prabowo Subianto expressed his support for Biden’s roadmap to end the war in Gaza. He said that it was an “important right step” and that his country would be ready to contribute “significant peacekeeping forces” to monitor a ceasefire in Gaza, if requested to do so by the UN.

Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin said that Malaysia welcomed and supported any proposal that would lead to an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

One significant takeaway from this year’s Security Dialogue was that the Defence Ministers of the US and China had a face-to-face meeting. Both sides are keen on maintaining lines of communications between their militaries in order to prevent any miscalculations that could lead to grave consequences for regional and international security.

The other important takeaway was that the Southeast Asian countries that are members of the ASEAN group of nations have demonstrated that while some of them have misgivings about Chinese intentions and policies, they are not willing to become uncritical allies of the US, apart from the Philippines, in the context of the US-Chinese rivalry in the Asia-Pacific and its implications for international politics.

This position is reassuring and could work as a guarantor of security and stability in the region.

Looking forward to the 22nd edition of the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in 2025, one question is likely to be looming large in everyone’s mind: who will be the next US president after the elections on 5 November?

If former president Donald Trump returns to the Oval Office for a second term, it cannot be certain that the security architecture supported by the Biden administration in the Asia-Pacific will remain unchanged.


The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 June, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Short link: