據傳媒報道，中國拒絕了美方 5 月份提出的兩國國防部長將在新加坡舉行會晤的要求。這種拒絕被視為中美軍事關係已降到冰點。美國國防部方面還以奧斯汀的名義致函李尚福，希望華盛頓和北京能夠保持開放的溝通和對話，避免任何相互競爭變成衝突的危險。
有意思的是，香格里拉對話會恰逢2023年5月30日在北京召開的第20屆中央國家安全委員會第一次會議。會議由習近平主持，據新華社報道，會議強調，中國所面臨國家安全問題的複雜程度、艱巨程度「明顯加大」。因此，「要加快推進國家安全體系和能力現代化」，「切實做好維護政治安全、提升網絡數據人工智能安全治理水平、加快建設國家安全風險監測預警體系、推進國家安全法治建設、加強國家安全教育等方面工作」。 此外，地方黨組織要「堅決維護國家主權、安全和發展利益」。 全國人大常委會稍後將修改《反間諜法》。
The Shangri-La Dialogue and Sino-US Military Diplomacy
While the Shangri-La Dialogue has been attracting defence leaders around the world to gather in Singapore to discuss security-related issues, the media spotlight is focusing on Sino-US military diplomacy.
At the opening session of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin walked up and shook hands with the Chinese State Councillor and Minister of National Defence Li Shangfu. They both were arranged to sit on the VIP table and sitting opposite each other. Li told Austin through a translator that he was delighted to meet the US Defence Secretary.
According to media reports, China has rejected a request from the US side in May that both defence secretaries would hold a meeting in Singapore. This rejection has been seen as a sign that the Sino-US military relations have reached their limits. The US defence side also sent a letter written by Austin to Li, hoping that Washington and Beijing would be able to maintain open communication and dialogue for the sake of avoiding any trend of turning mutual competition into conflicts.
When asked by the media whether the Chinese rejection of the US request for a meeting was due to the US sanction imposed on Li, the Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson Mao Ning replied that the US was “clear” about why Sino-US military relations encountered difficulties. Mao urged the US side to “respect” China’s sovereignty, security, and interest concerns, and to “correct wrong practices” as well as to show “sincerity and create the necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication.”
The US sanction imposed on Li Shangfu in September 2019 when the Trump administration targeted at him for being “involved” in the weapons transactions with Russia remains an obstacle to closer Sino-US military relations.
From the perspective of Beijing, if this sanction persists, formal meetings between the military defence chiefs from the Chinese and American sides are “unsuitable.” Since 2021, the Chinese side rejected the US military side’s requests for various kinds and levels of meetings over ten times.
On June 2nd, Li Shangfu met the Singapore defence minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen and made three major remarks. First, Li said that “Taiwan is China’s Taiwan,” that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) disallows any foreign forces to “use Taiwan to contain China,” and that the PRC does not abandon the promise of using force to settle the Taiwan issue. Second, Li and Ng signed a memorandum of understanding to maintain direct and confidential telephone communication as well as dialogue. Third, Li said that China resolutely supports the ASEAN to play a crucial role in the construction of a regional community, to maintain its strategic autonomy, and to build up an “entity of common destiny” with China.
The Shangri-La dialogue is taking place at a time when four countries, including the US, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, are going to have a meeting to strengthen their security cooperation and to deal with “the rapidly expanding maritime China.” The four states are going to consider how to strengthen some islands militarily, including the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, and those in the Philippines, to cope with the perceived “China threat.”
Geopolitically, the Shangri-La dialogue is taking place at a time when the US and its allies are perceiving China as a “military threat” that must be deterred by utilizing military alliances. If so, it is understandable why the Chinese defence side has refused to meet the US side in a formal meeting during the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Most significantly, the Chinese defence chief’s comments on Taiwan points to the PRC’s opposition to the way in which the US appears to turn Taiwan into its “protectorate.” Li’s remarks on Beijing’s opposition to any foreign force’s usage of Taiwan “to contain China” is indicative of how the PRC perceives the US military stance and action. From an objective perspective, the US has been providing weapons to Taiwan for the sake of “deterring the military threat” from the PRC” – a scenario that makes Beijing refuse to abandon the use of “force” to deal with Taiwan’s political future.
Furthermore, if the US government is explicitly supportive of the Taiwan government under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Beijing finds this US position politically, ideologically, and militarily unacceptable.
On June 1, once the US government signed the 21st century trade agreement with Taiwan in Washington, the PRC foreign ministry commented that the trade initiative between the US and Taiwan sides was an attempt to let the “DPP achieve its self-interest at the expense of the interest of the Taiwan comrades.” Beijing opposes any formal and official interaction between the US government and the Taiwan side. As such, the closer trade relations between Washington and Taipei are seen by Beijing as an economic alliance with tremendous political implications.
Under these difficult circumstances, it is understandable why the Sino-US military diplomacy cannot make any breakthrough in the current Shangri-La Dialogue.
Li is expected to deliver a speech on China’s global security initiative, whose concept was already published by the Foreign Ministry on February 21, 2023.
The PRC’s Global Security Initiative contains some features.
First, China advocates that countries in the world should be committed to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security.
Second, the states in the world must be committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.
Third, countries in the world must be committed to following the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.
Fourth, they should be committed to taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously.
Fifth, they should be committed to resolving their differences and disputes through dialogue and consultation.
Sixth, global security has to be protected in both traditional and non-traditional aspects.
The key to enhance the cooperation among states, according to the Global Security Initiative, is to uphold multilateralism and to use regional and international organizations for the sake of maintaining and achieving world peace and promoting sustainable development in the world.
The Global Security Initiative also emphasizes the importance of reducing the risks of any nuclear war.
The platforms of achieving the global security initiative, from the PRC perspective, includes all the continents and international as well as regional organizations.
The Global Security Initiative advocated by the PRC appears to be at odds with the US geopolitical strategy. After the Second World War, the US has been acting as international police – an action that has promoted some countries, including China, to see Washington as imposing its ideological and military hegemony in the world. The Global Security Initiative advocated by China tends to be more socialist in its ideological tone, and its geopolitical reach to every continent and to all major regional organizations naturally pose a “security threat” to the US.
Interestingly, the Shangri-La Dialogue is held at a time that coincides with the first meeting of the 20th Central National Security Commission held in Beijing on May 30, 2023. The meeting was presided over by President Xi Jinping, who according to the Xinhua news agency emphasized that China is facing “complex and serious circumstances” in its comprehensive national security. As such, China must “promote national security leadership and the rule of law system and perfect its strategic and policy systems.” Furthermore, the party organizations at the local level must “resolutely protect national sovereignty, security and developmental interest.” The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress will later revise the anti-espionage law.
In conclusion, under the context in which the US and its allies have been seeing China as a “military threat” and taking action to deter it through an increasingly explicit alliance with Taiwan, it is exceedingly difficult to expect any breakthrough in Sino-US military communication and meeting during the current Shangri-La Dialogue. Moreover, the Shangri-La Dialogue is held at a time when China is perceiving “serious” national security threats from outside forces. Exactly because of the perception of “the China threat” in the minds of US and its allies, the PRC’s publication and advocacy of its Global Security Initiative are understandable. Still, because of the underlying ideological differences between China and the US, Sino-US relations cannot expect to take a change for the better in the short and long run. Similarly, the Sino-US military diplomacy is naturally characterized more by megaphone diplomacy and political posturing rather than by in-depth negotiations that can turn the current impasse into a much brighter scenario.