China PLA member asks about role of Shangri-La Dialogue, if it’s serving interest of US and allies

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At the final plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue, a member of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Zhao Xiaozhuo, Senior Fellow, Academy of Military Sciences, PLA asked Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and the chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies John Chipman about the role of the security forum.

“There are negative views – views (of) the Shangri-la Dialogue as a forum dominated by the US and its allies, serving the interest of the US and its allies and also the topics discussed often point to differences, rather than cooperation, and divergence rather than convergence. So my question is: What role over the past years (has) Shangri-la Dialogue … played in Asia Pacific security and how do you view the comments and opinions I have mentioned?” he said.

Said Dr Ng: “I’ve attended a number of conferences, I attended their Xiangshan Forum and sometimes, it’s a matter of taste. I can imagine that people from the PLA come here and find this raucous a bit rambunctious. This is the Western liberal mode of many ideas. And from this, you’re supposed to gain wisdom and they go back and say it was thoroughly discombobulating. That’s entirely understandable.”

He added: “On the other hand, when things are too structured, too predictable, people don’t like to attend those, because they feel that it’s too scripted, that when you say things, the end is already determined. So why not, not say it, just send me something and I can read it, rather than travel we know a few thousand miles and arrive to Singapore. For China it must decide for itself whether the Shangri La Dialogue adds value. There is no coercion for you to attend. Is it better? To come to an open platform, to subject yourself sometimes to the tyranny of questions and to what might seem a common view from others to explain yourself, or to retreat from that engagement? That is something that China must decide for itself.”

“I think the People’s Republic of China has benefitted hugely from the participation it has had in the Shangri-La Dialogue,” said Dr Chipman, noting that there was a rare one-hour bilateral meeting between Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. (Video: Reuters)

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