South China Sea set to dominate Singapore security summit

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

Roiling tensions in the South China Sea are set to dominate Asia’s biggest security summit starting in Singapore on Friday, exposing a deepening rivalry between the United States and China ahead of a landmark legal ruling in the Hague.

The unofficial Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) is the last chance for the two powers to drum up support before a decision from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case brought by the Philippines.

Manila is contesting Beijing’s claim to an area shown on its maps as nine-dash line stretching deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia, covering hundreds disputed islands and reefs.

Security experts expect the United States will try to convince Southeast Asian countries, as well as other big powers such as India and Japan, to publicly support any positive decision for the Philippines, who asked the court to recognize its right to exploit waters in the South China Sea.

China, which rejects the court’s authority, will try to sway the countries to abstain from taking a public position, which should make it easier to stave off criticism from the West.

“The value of the case is the long term reputational damage and the pressure … on the Chinese. That only works if you have a big coalition that can keep this in the public eye,” said Greg Poling, director the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“But if the Chinese … get a ton of countries to abstain that deflects a lot of that criticism.”

Among the 20-odd delegations, much attention will be on the positions of Southeast Asian countries. Regional players haven’t always agreed on how to tackle China’s claims in the South China Sea, struggling to balance their security interests with their deep ties to the world’s second largest economy.

As well as China and Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have rival claims in the increasingly militarized area. The United States has also stepped up patrols and exercises, stressing the need to keep international sea-lanes open.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s keynote opening speech in a rare international appearance will be closely scrutinized for hints on Thailand’s strategic positioning.

“Thai policies reflect the predicament of the region,” said Tim Huxley, a security expert with the event’s organizer, the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies.

“Regional states want to have positive relations with China yet at the same time … strategically they are aligned with the West and they have reasons for being cautious about China’s behavior in the region.”

The three-day summit offers a rare chance for regional military brass and intelligence officers, and their civilian leaders, to openly debate regional defense trends and tensions.

The summit comes amid other significant strategic shifts in the region, particularly the recent election of tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and the recent lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on former enemy Vietnam.

The agenda also includes the rising tensions surrounding North Korea, which conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and followed that with a satellite launch and test launches of various missiles, which brought new sanctions.

The isolated country attempted to fire a missile from its east coast this week but the launch appears to have failed.

Other topics of discussion include the threat of radical militants in Southeast Asia, as well as cyber-security, which has become a hot topic after major bank heists from Bangladesh to Ecuador.

“Only a meeting of minds can solve or mitigate these challenges and as host, we will make sure that leaders get full opportunities to engage each other,” Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on his Facebook page.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Raju Gopalakrishnan.; Editing by Lincoln Feast)


6 Comments on “South China Sea set to dominate Singapore security summit”

  1. Joseph says:

    It looks like that not only SCS is on American agenda for the summit. It it more likely that the American agenda is to scrutinized anyone who goes against American interest in the region that doesn’t not support them anymore. All in all, the article was about this Tim Huxley and where he wants the sunmit heads to, boring SCS agenda and other US interests in the region. However, it is unlikely the regional attendees would like to take seriously what the American wish to lament. Recent even between China and Indonesia had shown we can settle our own differences like responsible adults without American ‘help’ or interference. Had Indonesia chosen the American way to ‘broker a truce’ like they did Phillipines in 2012, we would be on long term American-led conflict that does not benefit us. So who in the region needs the American with their agenda? American corporates in the region, perhaps. Thailand is an interesting but not unexpected case for the American. After long running instability caused by the American trying fasten their grip on the country. Thailand military leader Prayuth Chan-ocha stepped in. He detained every American-trained anarchists and troublemakers posing as ‘opposition’ to restore stability, and by doing so he effectively ended American campaign for Thailand’s political dominance. That made him enemy of the American and Western-unfriendly leader. He would undoubtedly not escape scrutinies. After all, American and Western agenda in the summit is not about Thailand’s best interest or the best interest of anyone in the region. It is about Western best interest, just as in the SCS.


  2. Fre Okin says:

    While Singapore make tons of money hosting the useless Shangri La Dialogue, she should explain to the world her lack of neutrality in the SCS. Singapore is a direct beneficiary of US force repositioning after US was forced to leave Subic Bay in the nineties.

    Singapore is where US littoral combat ships go for maintenance and replenishment before heading out to SCS. It is also where US subs like the Ohios went before going to SCS. Singapore is where the chokepoint is for Chinese subs, navy ships heading towards the Indian Ocean. Singapore is US Partner, Eyes and Ears to Track Chinese subs at the Philips Channel at mouth of Malacca Strait.

    If Singapore want to play a constructive role in the SCS dispute, she should be Completely Neutral and not offer US any assistance in any form or manner in military matters. Singapore actually help Inflame the situation in the South China Sea by being an accessory of USN.

    Participants in Shangri La Dialogue should ask Singapore ‘Are you more interested in making money, economic well being than security for Everybody in the South China Sea?’



    • Steve says:

      Singapore (Sg) strategic value outweigh the Philippines and Thailand in location, commerce, military deployment, etc. Although not a military alliance, Sg has a long standing military relations with the US. The US sells arms to Sg and in return provide access of US bases to train Sg armed services. In many ways Sg has been dependent on procurement of military arms from the US especially aircraft. Under the US Sg Strategic framework agreement, the US deploy combat ships, aircraft, surveillance, etc. on a rotational basis. Unfortunately, the US Sg relations, in my opinion will become an alliance when push comes to shove. Singapore relationship with the US is too ingrained in it’s military relations, bilateral free trade agreement as well as US investments in Sg. Indeed, Sg is one of the five eyes n ears for the US.

      Over four decades ago Singapore was isolated between two muslim neighbours and needed military support, education, free trade, bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. The only logical countries to meet Sg demands would be the US, UK and Australia — All hegemonic war mongering countries. During those periods most Asian countries can’t get along. Examples – The Koreas, Thailand/Vietnam/Cambodia/Philippines, China/Japan/Russia, India/Pakistan. Singapore may appear neutral on the surface, but very much tied with the US,
      NZ and Australia, being three of the five eyes and ears. We can see that China’s engineered islands are extremely important in the SCS.


  3. Simon says:

    SE Asian countries need to look ahead to a possibility of Donald Trump becomming president of America. Already Trump with business interest in mind and want to save money want to withdraw its troomps from S Korea and pull back military support to Japan and Phillipines. As much as people might dislike Trump he is a realist and knows America cannot sustain a military that has no financial benefit only huge financial burden to his country. This will mean Chinese control of SCS and ECS is becomming a reality sooner than anyone thinks. By supporting China now they can heap much reward with favourable trading condition with China. If they are against China they will find themslevs isolated and vulnerable because the Americans will no longer be militarily involved under a Trump administration.


  4. Steve says:

    Clearly, the US, as in the past Shangri-La Dialogue has been vying for primacy of military alliances with Asian nations and to pursue FONOPs in the SCS for maritime hegemonic dominance. From the US point of view, maritime hegemonic dominance of the SCS is crucial for its continuity of military leadership. Without these pursuits, the US pivot to Asia would be meaningless especially with the construction of Chinese engineered islands. The US are caught blindfolded with China’s quick pace of island construction. The purpose of these islands would have drastically weakened the US maritime supremacy especially when China installs underwater detection and radar surveillance of US warships and submarines.

    By now China would have a ton of support with over 50 countries of exclusionary arbitration right and nations abstaining from it. The barking dogs of war will be extremely loud and fierce in this 2016 dialogue. I believe Thailand will support China or at least abstain from it. Thailand’s military alliance with the US has already weakened and getting stronger by the day with China.

    Depending on PH new President elect Duterte’s relationship with China, the political landscape could change contrary to Aquino’s dogmatic policy. The Philippines-China relationship in the near future maybe even more positive and favourable than Vietnam to China.


  5. Sentinel says:


    “Roiling tensions in the South China Sea are set to dominate Asia’s biggest security summit starting in Singapore on Friday, exposing a deepening rivalry between the United States and China ahead of a landmark legal ruling in the Hague.”

    “Landmark ruling”? What a lot of bull.

    All this stuff about the Permanent “Court” of Arbitration expected “ruling” is nothing but propaganda bullhorn and fear-mongering aimed at China and the rest of SE & East Asian countries. Imperial Washington’s hope is that these countries will cave in by agreeing to coalesce against China by allying themselves with the U.S. to buy arms from them, and issue politically damaging remarks against China. And when the Permanent “Court” of Arbitration eventuially states that it has no locus standi to rule on the case because there is no agreement from the countries – China and Philippines – for the “Court” to assist in arbitrating the dispute, the case falls flat and dies off with a whisper … BUT not before Imperial Washington achieves its aim of divide and conquer and making the gullible ASEAN countries do and say things they would had been more wiser and prudent not to have said until the facts are in. Fear and scare-mongering has always been Imperial Washington’s and its mouthpiece mass medias’ manipulative modus operandi against other “disobedient” countries.

    Are SE & East countries savy against such American brow beating and BS? Let’s see what happens.