Defining Moments: China's Defense Minister at Shangri-La Dialogue

PR Newswire
Thursday, June 13, 2024 at 2:24pm UTC

Defining Moments: China's Defense Minister at Shangri-La Dialogue

PR Newswire

GUANGZHOU, China, June 12, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- News report from GDToday:

On the morning of June 2, 2024, shortly after 8 a.m. local time, the Island Ballroom at Shangri-La Singapore was abuzz with a throng of delegates. The grandiosity of the space, with its capacity to host a thousand, was not just a venue but a stage for pivotal moments at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Beneath a constellation of six crystal chandeliers, the air was thick with anticipation as officials, scholars, and media from the Asia-Pacific region exchanged pleasantries and ideas. Among the crowd was Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun, poised to make his inaugural speech at the Dialogue, offering insights into China's stance on global security.

Since Minister Dong's arrival in Singapore on the 29th of May, every move on his itinerary had been pored over by the keen eyes of the international community, with particular interest in his high-stakes meeting with the U.S. Defense Secretary on May 31.

In a candid moment captured by the Associated Press after the China-U.S. talks, Dong, the first to step out of the meeting room, engaged in a light-hearted dialogue about the pandas destined for San Diego, California, with an American delegate, extending an invitation to immerse herself in the pandas' native Chengdu.

Following behind, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, when probed by the press about the nature of the talks, offered a simple yet telling remark, "They went well."

During the discourse, Dong emphasized, "A healthy relationship between our militaries is not just in our mutual interest but also a shared aspiration of the global community." He advocated for open channels between the two forces to foster understanding, dispel ambiguities, and cultivate trust.

With measured optimism, Dong anticipated that the U.S. would demonstrate a congruence between its rhetoric and actions, striving alongside China to fulfill the consensus established by the leaders of both nations. He envisioned an earnest effort to bolster exchanges, embrace the principles of harmony, stability, and trust, and together, carve out a path for the coexistence of the two militaries—a path that would satisfy not only their bilateral interests but also the broader expectations of the world.

Asia-Pacific peace and prosperity, an anchor for global security

Dong, adorned in his formal Navy attire and signature dark-framed glasses, entered the stage at 8:27 a.m., marking the third day of the Shangri-La Dialogue. His presence added a layer of gravity to the already tense atmosphere, as attendees awaited his remarks on China's position in the global security theater.

Following the opening address by Bastian Giegerich, Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Dong began his speech by highlighting the collective aspirations for peace and development in an increasingly turbulent world. He referred to the "Asia-Pacific miracle," a period of peace and prosperity that has significantly contributed to global stability and growth.

"In today's turbulent world, people of all countries have a stronger desire for peace and development. The peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, which has lasted for decades, is a remarkable miracle that has injected a strong impetus into world development and served as an anchor for global security. It has taught us a lot of things."

Subsequently, Dong pointed out China's defense policy and guidelines. He stated that China values peace and harmony, pursues common security, is committed to equality, mutual respect, openness, and inclusiveness, and resolutely safeguards its core interests.

As for Taiwan, Dong emphasized that the Taiwan question is at the core of China's core interests, and the one-China principle has long become a universally recognized norm that governs international relations.

"To safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity is the sacred mission of the Chinese military, and we will take resolute actions to curb "Taiwan independence" and make sure such a plot never succeeds," he said.

When it came to the South China Sea issue, Dong stated, "We advocate settlement of disputes through dialogue and consultation and despise the law of the jungle. When addressing border and maritime disputes, we have never provoked incidents or easily resorted to the use of force. We have worked with ASEAN countries to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and accelerate consultations on the DOC, and have maintained peace and tranquility in our region."

"With regard to how to build Asia-Pacific security, China is willing to protect the legitimate security interests of all countries, build a more just and equitable international order, serve as a framework of regional security, advance open and substantive defense cooperation, set an example of maritime security cooperation, strengthen security governance in emerging areas, create a new situation of regional security cooperation, and strive to make the Asia-Pacific an anchor for global stability and development," Dong said.

Through his 35-minute speech, Dong explained China's approach to global security to the world.

In the Q&A session of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Dong made impactful replies.

In the first round of the Q&A, Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin asked, "Is China pursuing the peaceful reunification of Taiwan?" Dong took more than 10 minutes to restate China's policy stance on the Taiwan issue.

At the end of this speech, Dong called on the delegates from all parties to pool our wisdom together and through to add more positive expectations.

Dong sent an invitation, to guests from all over the world, to the Beijing Xiangshan Forum to be held in China this autumn.

"Defense Minister Dong's speech expresses China's stance clearly," said Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen during a press interview on June 2. "I think that he is willing to spend more time on answering delegates' questions," Ng added.

Meeting of Chinese and U.S. defense chiefs, "positive, practical, and constructive"

The meeting of the Chinese and U.S. defense ministers was the greatest focus of this year's Shangri-La Dialogue. It took place between Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and their entourages at around 1:00 p.m. on May 31 at the Dutch Pavilion in Shangri-La Singapore.

This was another formal meeting of the Chinese and U.S. defense ministers 18 months after the last meeting.

The air temperature of 31°C seemed to further heat up the meeting. In the conference room, the two defense chiefs exchanged views on the Taiwan question, the South China Sea issue, the Ukraine crisis, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, etc. On both sides of the corridor leading to the Dutch Pavilion, over 30 Chinese and overseas media reporters were waiting anxiously, as they held cameras and mobile phones.

At around 2:12 p.m., Dong and the other members of the Chinese delegation walked out of the venue. His dark-framed glasses were suddenly covered by a thin layer of mist, and he was soon besieged by the numerous Chinese and overseas media reporters waiting there.

"Thanks for your attention; my colleagues will brief you in a moment," Dong said while raising his right hand and looking around at the reporters after a brief pause.

Global attention was drawn to this talk between the Chinese and U.S. defense ministers 18 months later. Wu Qian, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense of China, held a press briefing just 10 minutes after the talk, where he revealed that the talk lasted 75 minutes, longer than the originally expected one hour. "This was a positive, practical, and constructive strategic communication session," said Wu.

"Meeting is better than not meeting, and talking is better than not talking," said Wu. However, we cannot expect both sides to solve all existing problems between the two armies in one stroke.

In the reporter Q&A session, Wu mentioned that China objected to microphone diplomacy, and he stressed that face-to-face communication between the two defense ministers is very important.

"Both sides highly expect productive communication between the defense ministers to implement the consensus reached at the San Francisco summit between the two heads of state, and promote the healthy and stable development of the relationship between the two armies," said Tong Zhen, a research fellow at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences.

Delegates present also observed the relationship between the Chinese and U.S. armies through Austin's speech. Since he was elected U.S. Defense Secretary, he has visited Singapore four times and attended the Shangri-La Dialogue three times.

"The speech by Austin is a continuation of his 2023 speech, but it shows a softer attitude towards China," He Lei, former President of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, told a reporter from Southern Weekly. He is an old friend of the Shangri-La Dialogue. In 2017 and 2018, he attended the Dialogue twice as the leader of the delegation, and he has attended the Dialogue as a delegation member many times.

How should the two armies enhance cooperation? Wu thought that the two armies should carry out exchanges between military academies and engage in policy dialogues.

"Every beginning is difficult. However, we can benefit from doing something first. As long as the journey is, we will reach our destination if we stay the course," said Wu frankly.

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