Jun 02, 2019 / 19:23

From Shangri-La: US, China heat up South China Sea issues

The Hanoitimes - Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said behavior that erodes other nations` sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end.

Both defense chiefs of the US and China have focused on the South China Sea issues at the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue, an important forum to promote cooperation in defense and security in Asia-Pacific region.
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at Shangri-La. Photo: CNBC
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at Shangri-La. Photo: CNBC
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on June 1 warned China against threatening its neighbors’ sovereignty and called its actions in the Indo-Pacific region “a toolkit of coercion.”

“China can and should have a cooperative relationship with the rest of the region... But behavior that erodes other nations' sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end,” foreign media quoted Shanahan as saying at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. 

“Until it does, we stand against a myopic, narrow and parochial vision of the future, and we stand for the free and open order that has benefited us all, including China,” Shanahan said at the three-day event starting on May 31. 

Shanahan blamed China for militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea, its alleged attempts to conduct cyberattacks on other nations and its engagement in “predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals.”

Shanahan’s comments came amid heightened tensions caused by China in the South China Sea where the giant country claims up to 90%. 

In response to a question, Shanahan said the US was “not going to ignore Chinese behavior, and I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that,” according to Reuters. 

Meanwhile, China sends ‘highest-profile’ team to Shangri-La Dialogue including its most senior military officials and scholars.  

Chinese Minister for National Defense General Wei Fenghe at the dialogue. Photo: Reuters
Chinese Minister for National Defense General Wei Fenghe at the dialogue. Photo: Reuters
Chinese Minister for National Defense Wei Fenghe, the first Chinese defence minister to speak at the Shangri-La Dialogue since 2011, said his country's military operations in Asia were purely aimed at self-defence, but it would not hesitate to counter an attack on its interests, Reuters reported.

In previous years, Beijing has sought to play down the importance of the meeting – seen as a platform dominated by Washington and its Western allies – and has sent lower-level officials, the South China Morning Post reported.

But that approach has changed with China and the US locked in a protracted trade war and amid escalating geopolitical rivalry.

Military officials in Beijing now see the forum as an important platform to promote China’s position on regional security and to seek support from its neighbors.

The annual security forum has become a diplomatic battlefield between Beijing and Washington in recent years, as the two powers spar over a range of issues from trade to the contested South China Sea.

Vietnam intensifies dialogues with regional peers 

During the event, Vietnamese Minister of Defense Ngo Xuan Lich has worked with his counterparts to discuss bilateral and regional issues of mutual concerns. 

Vietnamese Minister of Defense Ngo Xuan Lich and his US counterpart. Photo: QDND
Vietnamese Minister of Defense Ngo Xuan Lich and his US counterpart. Photo: QDND
In a working session with Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, Ngo Xuan Lich talked about the further cooperation in signed defense and security agreements, including the maintenance of high-ranking exchange visits and dialogues, joint training for the UN’s missions, and the settlement of post-war legacy. 

They agreed to continue building practical defense cooperation, particularly in the area of maritime security, and underscored the importance of close cooperation on addressing legacy of war issues and accounting for U.S. personnel missing from the Vietnam War, according to the US Department of Defense.

Shanahan underscored the US commitment to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region based on a stable, rules-based order, and welcomed Vietnam’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2020.  

Both leaders agreed that a strong and comprehensive partnership based on mutual respect and shared principles promotes regional peace and stability.

Lich and UK Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt agreed to boost cooperation in the UN’s peace-keeping missions and he thanked the UK for its support in the operations of a mobile hospital in South Sudan and in training English for the peace-keeping forces. 

In talks with New Zealand’s Minister of Defense Ron Mark, Lich and his counterpart reached consensus in search and rescue, cybersecurity, and training forces for the peace-keeping missions. The two sides agreed to support each other in regional and international forums. 

In a meeting with Singaporean peer Ng Eng Heng, Lich suggested that the two sides would support each other in consultancy, training armed forces, military medicine, search and rescue, and military industries. 

Meanwhile, Lich and French Defense Minister Florence Parly agreed to boost cooperation in the fields of mutual interest. 

In talks with his Malaysian counterpart Haji Mohamad Sabu, the Vietnamese defense minister said that the bilateral defense ties should be deepened by joint efforts in naval and coast guard training. They agreed to cooperate more in settling distress at sea. 

At the dialogue, Lich also worked with Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Mongolian counterpart Enkhbold Nyamaa for further cooperation. 

Lich also met with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Maria Mogherini at the event. 

On this occasion, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh said at an interview with the Tuoi Tre newspaper that Vietnam pursues its policies on settling regional and international disputes by peaceful measures within its capability. Notably, he affirmed that the country does not pursue arms race and make military expenses burden the state coffer. 

Organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Shangri-La Dialogue brings together defense ministers, senior officials and security experts to exchange views on the issues that shape the defense and security panorama in the region. 

This year’s agenda will be developed in six plenary sessions that will address security in the Indo-Pacific region, the situation in North Korea, China’s role in international cooperation in security and defense matters and adopt measures to guarantee peace and stability in Asia, among other issues.