Renewed talks between China and the U.S. at the Shangri-La Dialogue led to advancements in military exchanges
By Zhao Wei  ·  2024-06-11  ·   Source: NO.24 JUNE 13, 2024
China's Defense Minister Dong Jun delivers a speech at the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2 (VCG)

Amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and mounting challenges to Asia-Pacific security, the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue, which took place in Singapore from May 31 to June 2, garnered widespread attention. The three-day event brought together government officials, military representatives, business leaders and security experts from 45 countries and regions around the world.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, officially known as the Asia Security Summit, was initiated by the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in 2002 with the support of the Singaporean Government. It has since evolved into one of the most influential security exchange platforms in the Asia-Pacific region. Its conversational format facilitates wide-ranging exchange of diverse issues, including traditional concerns like military cooperation, as well as non-traditional issues such as counterterrorism, cybersecurity and climate change. These broad-ranging exchanges enable comprehensive reflection on the challenges and cooperative needs of Asia-Pacific security.

China's approach to global security

Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun delivered a speech on China's approach to global security on June 2. He emphasized that China's strategic culture is rooted in the principles of "universal love and non-aggression," advocating for the resolution of differences through dialogue and negotiation.

"Universal love and non-aggression" are fundamental doctrines of Mohism, a school of Chinese philosophy founded by Mozi that flourished during the Warring States Period (475–221 B.C.). According to Mohist thought, universal love promotes equal affection for all, regardless of blood ties or social status, to avoid conflict and ensure mutual benefit. Non-aggression opposes unjust warfare due to its severe societal harm, including casualties and property losses in both the attacking and the attacked countries.

In his speech, Dong said, in its response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China has always been committed to promoting peace and does not provide weapons to any party involved in the conflict. He emphasized that China strictly controls the export of items that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, and will never contribute to or facilitate the escalation of hostilities, firmly standing on the side of peace and dialogue.

Regarding the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Dong said China has been working for peace and promoting resolving differences through dialogue and negotiation since the conflict erupted in October 2023.

Dong added China is willing to work with all parties to protect the legitimate security interests of all countries, jointly build a more just and equitable international order, give full play to regional security architecture, advance open and substantive defense cooperation, set an example of maritime security cooperation and strengthen security governance in emerging areas, to strive for new progress in regional security cooperation.

Dong's speech is a vivid and comprehensive interpretation of the China-proposed Global Security Initiative (GSI), according to Xiang Haoyu, a research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Research Institute of the China Institute of International Studies. The GSI was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2022. The initiative calls on countries to stay committed to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and work together to keep the world safe and secure.

"Dong's speech contains a series of policy propositions and practical solutions for maintaining international and Asia-Pacific security stability. This important policy declaration made directly by the Chinese defense minister is undoubtedly weighty and persuasive, conveying positive and constructive messages to the international community," Xiang said in an interview with Chinese news portal

Dialogue and battlefront

On June 1, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressed the dialogue. In his speech, Austin said the U.S. continues to see the Indo-Pacific region as its "priority theater of operations."

Later that day, China's Ministry of National Defense hosted a press conference at which Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng, Deputy Chief of the Central Military Commission's Joint Staff Department, responded to Austin's remarks. Jing criticized America's Indo-Pacific Strategy, pointing out that under the banner of promoting regional cooperation, the U.S. clings to a Cold War mentality, engages in zero-sum games and forms exclusive "clubs."

"The real purpose of this strategy is to merge small circles into an Asian version of NATO—thereby maintaining U.S. dominance," Jing said.

According to Zhang Chi, an associate professor at the Center of Strategic Studies at China's National Defense University, Austin's statements are contradictory. On the one hand, Austin claimed that America is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, while on the other hand, he strongly advocated for reinforcing American alliances and partnerships within this area.

Zhang said the U.S.-led multilateral cooperation mechanisms, such as AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the UK and the U.S., are exclusive and targeted at third parties. This approach, Zhang warned in an interview with, would exacerbate regional tensions.

On May 31, Dong and Austin had a 75-minute meeting, which had originally been scheduled for one hour. This marked the first face-to-face meeting between Chinese and American defense ministers in 18 months, and both sides highly valued the discussion.

During the talks, both sides exchanged views on China-U.S. military exchanges, the Taiwan question, the South China Sea issue, the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, said Wu Qian, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense, at a media briefing after the meeting.

Wu described the meeting as "positive, pragmatic and constructive strategic communication," while Austin emphasized the day after the importance of renewed dialogue with his Chinese counterpart to avoid "miscalculations and misunderstandings."

Since the meeting between President Xi and U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco last November, interactions and exchanges at all levels of the military between the two countries have increased.

This year, substantial dialogues have taken place between both sides. These include the 17th China-U.S. Defense Policy Coordination Talks held in Washington, D.C., in January and a new round of maritime military safety consultations in Hawaii in April. The defense ministers of the two countries also had a video conference in April. Moreover, the director of the Office for International Military Cooperation under China's Central Military Commission held video talks with the U.S. assistant secretary of defense upon invitation on May 16.

"The meeting between defense ministers further elevated the level of exchange between the two militaries," said Zhao Xiaozhuo, Deputy Director of the Center on China-U.S. Defense Relations, the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, who has attended 10 sessions of the dialogue. He emphasized that such communication and interaction can enhance mutual understanding and help avoid misjudgments. This helps to promote the stable and healthy development of military exchanges. BR

(Print Edition Title: The Will to Communicate)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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