Regional security requires that all parties cooperate
In an increasingly less stable world, there appears to be a trend towards finger-pointing rather than dialogue as seen at a recent security forum in Singapore
The threats from extremists require nations to be on good speaking terms and working together. Those realities are being partly disregarded by the United States and its allies in Asia as they attempt to make strategic gains against China. Criticism recently levelled at Beijing during the region’s most important security forum, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, was less than productive. Only through reasoned dialogue and cooperation can there be a hope of ensuring safety and stability.
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis took the lead in hitting out at China, contending that stability was being undermined by Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea. He tempered his language by praising Beijing for working with the world community to end the weapons threats from North Korea, but also spoke of the need for adherence to a rules-based order, a sentiment backed by Japan and Australia. The three nations called for dialogue with China, stressing the need for adherence to international law and freedom of navigation. But China says it is not obstructing sea traffic or trade.
China has pledged to uphold and protect international rules and where there are disputes, seek dialogue. Beijing well understands that sovereignty and resource issues like the South China Sea can only be resolved through negotiations and has made a point of reaching out to contesting parties to find consensus. That is what is happening with the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, four of whose members have claims in the disputed waters; it last month finalised with China the drafting of a framework for a code of conduct to manage disputes, deepen maritime cooperation and ensure peace and stability.
Such efforts are vital to resolving the threats that the region faces, among them North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, terrorism and Muslim extremism and piracy. The Shangri-La Dialogue was launched in 2002 to bring together in Singapore each year defence officials and professionals to build confidence and foster security cooperation. The contact and communication that has been created has led to a measure of success in tackling regional security challenges. But the US has also used the forum to push back against China’s growing might, eroding the achievements.
The US sees itself as an international role model, but is sometimes not shy about putting self-interest first; President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement made that obvious. China is increasingly aware of the need for global cooperation, which is why it has taken a leadership role on the accord and is enforcing efforts against North Korea. Only through such an approach can the region and world properly tackle their challenges.