The United States, China and other Asian nations are taking steps to contain rising tensions over the South China Sea at a key regional security meeting that began in Singapore on Friday. As defence ministers and military chiefs from major Asian and European nations gather for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, there are signs that both China and the US are keen to tone down their rhetoric and find ways to avoid confrontation, according to analysts. They said that both sides would not want their differences on the maritime disputes to sabotage their relations, especially with a major bilateral diplomatic and economic dialogue due to start in Beijing on Monday. In another sign of goodwill, Hanoi has invited the naval fleet of the People’s Liberation Army to make stops at unspecified ports in Vietnam, according to defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun. The invitation was issued on the dialogue’s sidelines during a meeting between Vietnamese Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh and Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission. China and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. PLA admiral to make China’s case at security forum Dr Bonnie Glaser, of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said that while Beijing and Washington were expected to stand firm on their diverging interests in the maritime disputes, they would not use the meeting to draw attention to their disagreements. “We really have some fundamental conflict of interest, especially on the South China Sea, but [the dialogue is] not the place to come up with some solutions to our problems,” Glaser said. Rather than trying to find a consensus, both sides would focus on finding ways to manage their differences and avoid tensions from escalating into open conflict or a military accident. The US wants the region to have confidence in the US as a provider of peace and security and a reliable ally Bonnie Glaser, analyst “The US wants the region to have confidence in the US as a provider of peace and security and a reliable ally. But at the same time, the region does not want to see a US-China conflict. Striking that balance is what the US tries to do at the Shangri-La Dialogue,” she said. Huang Jing, a US-China relations expert at the National University of Singapore, also said it was not in the interest of the US or China to see escalating regional tensions get out of control. Huang, who is a member of the dialogue’s organising committee, said the South China Sea tensions would not be covered in the five main sessions planned for the three-day meeting. Instead, the topic was listed for one of six side meetings to be held on Saturday and Sunday. “Both China and the US are willing to play down their differences and the host nation Singapore does not want the meeting to be hijacked by the South China Sea issue,” Huang said. He said that despite the differences between the White House and Pentagon on how to deal with an increasingly assertive China, US President Barack Obama would not allow another spat between China and the US to emerge on the eve of the annual Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue scheduled to begin on Monday. What is the Shangri-La Dialogue and why is it so important? Both Glaser and Huang said US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, who will deliver a speech on Saturday, would moderate his usual hardline comments. Carter has previously said China risked creating “a great wall of isolation” with its assertiveness. In response, China is likely to continue to defend its stand when Admiral Sun Jianguo makes his address to the forum tomorrow. “I don’t think we’re going to hear anything new on the Chinese side,” Glaser said. China and the US are willing to play down their differences and the host nation Singapore does not want the meeting to be hijacked by the South China Sea issue Huang Jing, National University of Singapore “It’s a good venue to speak about differences but strike a balance. But I don’t think there’ll be specially sharp rhetoric at the Shangri-La Dialogue as it takes place on the eve of the bilateral strategic and economic dialogue.” The Shangri-La Dialogue has evolved into a major security summit for the Asia-Pacific since it was launched in 2002 by British think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Singaporean government. Vietnam’s port call invitation to the Chinese fleet comes after two Indian stealth warships made a four-day visit to Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay. The trip concluded on Thursday, according to the Indian Ministry of Defence. Like the US, India is not a claimant to the South China Sea. But Nguyen did not give details about which port the Chinese fleet was invited to visit, Yang said. Led by Admiral Sun, the Chinese delegation held eight bilateral meetings on Friday, including talks with envoys from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore and Russia. But there was no announcement about a bilateral meeting between China and the US.