Shangri-La Dialogue opens in Singapore amid pressing security challenges

By Yonhap
  • Published : May 31, 2019 - 17:47
  • Updated : May 31, 2019 - 17:47

One of Asia's biggest annual security meetings opened in Singapore on Friday as major players in the region grapple with complex security challenges, including stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea. 

The 18th Asia Security Summit, better known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, brought defense chiefs and top-level military officers from 38 countries across the world together for discussion sessions, as well as bilateral and multilateral talks, according to its organizer, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). It will run until Sunday.

A view of the Shangri-La Hotel, where the 18th Asia Security Summit opens May 31, 2019, for a three-day run (Yonhap)

The forum takes place at a time when negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang are at a stalemate following the no-deal summit in February between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. In an apparent show of frustration, the North conducted weapons tests earlier this month.

Tensions have also been escalating among the countries over such tricky issues as the highly contested region of the South China Sea.

During the three-day forum, South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and China's Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe will deliver keynote speeches to outline their defense priorities and strategies.

Jeong arrived here on the day and started his three-day schedule with a meeting with US congressmen. Later, he will sit down for bilateral talks with his counterparts from Singapore, Vietnam and NATO.

On Saturday, the minister is scheduled to deliver a speech under the theme of "Korean security, the next steps," through which he will elaborate on Seoul's efforts for North Korea's denuclearization and drum up international support for its peace efforts.

During the forum, he will have a one-on-one meeting with the Chinese defense minister on Saturday. They last met in October. On the table is expected to be how to promote defense exchanges between Seoul and Beijing, which have shown signs of progress recently after a row over the installation of an advanced US missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, on Korean soil. 

South Korea`s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (Yonhap)

Wei is the highest-ranking Chinese delegate to attend the forum since 2011.

Jeong is also due to meet with his counterparts from France and Britain, as well as a security representative from the European Union, according to his office.

It is still unclear if he will meet bilaterally with Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya. Officials have said discussions are under way between the two sides on the matter, though some Japanese media reported that the two chiefs will likely have an informal dialogue rather than any official talks due to a row over a military radar.

The defense ties between Seoul and Tokyo have deteriorated particularly since December last year when Japan claimed a South Korean warship directed its military tracking radar at its maritime patrol aircraft, a charge dismissed by Seoul.

Jeong and Iwaya, however, will have a trilateral meeting with Shanahan on Sunday, which is widely expected to be dominated by North Korea's recent military activities and ways to mend Seoul-Tokyo defense ties.

North Korea launched weapons tests twice earlier this month involving two short-range missiles. Though the allies have said they are analyzing the exact type of the missiles and their intention, Shanahan said Thursday he sees it as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that ban the communist country from testing ballistic missiles.

Jeong and Shanahan will meet bilaterally in Seoul on Monday during the Pentagon chief's two-day trip here.

Lee Do-hoon (C), Seoul`s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun (L) meet in Seoul on May 10, 2019, in this file photo. (Yonhap)

Also drawing attention is the arrival of American, South Korean and Japanese nuclear envoys in Singapore for talks on North Korea, apparently to seek ways to break the current impasse. It is quite unusual for the nuclear envoys to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The top negotiators -- Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs; US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun; and Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau -- are scheduled for a closed-door meeting later in the day.

The three-party talks will be to discuss "continued coordination on our goal of the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea," according to the US State Department.

Lee is also set to have bilateral talks with Biegun and Kansugi, respectively, on Friday, Seoul government officials said.

Launched in 2002, the annual Shangri-La Dialogue has helped build confidence and foster practical security cooperation by facilitating communication among key policymakers, according to the IISS, a Britain-based think tank. (Yonhap)