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All Talk, No Dialogue on Asian Security

Calls at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to improve military-to-military communication between the US and China, especially in light of increasingly aggressive encounters at sea and in the air, fell on deaf ears. Despite the best efforts of the US and its allies, China is in no hurry to re-engage.

MELBOURNE – The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s largest security conference, has wrapped up its 2023 meeting in Singapore. The context for this year’s summit was not propitious: Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine grinds on, while Chinese President Xi Jinping continues his uncompromising approach to global affairs.

If one thing was obvious during the two days of defense diplomacy, it is that the Sino-American competition is far from being managed effectively. A robust bilateral dialogue is almost non-existent at the ministerial level, with military-to-military contact even more limited. Efforts by US President Joe Biden’s administration to restart talks fizzled earlier this year after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down in American airspace. Some senior officials are in contact, potentially paving the way for high-level visits. But for now, China is in no hurry to re-engage.

As the United States warns of an alarming increase in ominous intercepts from Chinese military aircraft and vessels amid escalating tensions over Taiwan, America’s partners want China to talk. The focus, they argue, should be on better military-to-military communication to build confidence. In delivering this year’s Shangri-La keynote, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described more dialogue as the “first and most fundamental” guardrail on US-China relations.

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