World superpowers need dialogue, not conflict

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 3:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 June, 2014, 10:28am

A world in which the biggest powers shout at one another rather than talk is worrying indeed. In little more than a week, China, the United States and Japan have hurled angry words at one another and American and European leaders have threatened Russia, which has responded in kind. Tensions in the East and South China Seas have never been higher and Moscow's annexation of Crimea three months ago remains dangerously contentious. There is a growing belief that a new cold war is brewing; ominously, the rhetoric comes amid significant first and second world war anniversaries.

The annual summit of the world's most developed economies and the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore showed how wide the divisions have become. Russia was supposed to have hosted this year's annual G8 gathering, but its actions over Ukraine prompted the other members to reschedule the meeting to Brussels and not invite Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia was warned of a toughening of sanctions. Moscow accused the G7 of "cynicism without limit". G7 leaders also took indirect aim at Beijing, saying that nations involved in territorial disputes should clarify claims in accordance with international law. China rightly contends that negotiations are the only way forward.

Last month's Shangri-La Dialogue was unprecedented for its frostiness. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's keynote speech was devoted to the rule of law at sea, a stab at China and its confrontation in recent weeks with Vietnam and the Philippines. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel singled out Beijing for taking "destabilising, unilateral actions" and warning the US opposed "any nation's use of intimidation, coercion or the threat of force". The deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, General Wang Guanzhong, called Abe's and Hagel's speeches "provocative".

Another cold war is not in the offing; the economies of China and Russia are too deeply interconnected with the West. But as the 70th anniversary of the Allied assault against Adolf Hitler is remembered and the centenary next month of the start of the first world war approaches, there is every reason to tone down rhetoric. Losses, not gains, come from conflict. Diplomacy and dialogue are the only ways to resolve disputes. The world's power's need one another to grow their economies and solve problems, among them climate change, the nuclear proliferation of Iran and North Korea, and Syria's civil war.