SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asia’s top security meeting opened on Friday as growing competition between the United States and China is expected to dominate a weekend of high-level speeches, backroom military dealings and subtle diplomacy.
The Shangri-La Dialogue, which brings together top military officers, diplomats, arms makers and security analysts from around the world, takes place from June 2-4 in Singapore.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will deliver the keynote address on Friday night, before US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and China’s new defense minister Li Changfu trade barbs in two speeches over the weekend.
The relationship between the United States and China is at its lowest point in decades, with the two superpowers still deeply divided over everything from Taiwan sovereignty to cyber espionage and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Hopes that the Singapore summit would be an opportunity to repair relations between Washington and Beijing took a hit last week when Lee turned down an offer to meet with Austin.
The United States sanctioned Li, who was appointed China’s new defense minister in March, over arms purchases from Russia.
There was a brief moment of Sino-US dialogue at the summit during a breakout session on cyber security.
“We should talk to China,” US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said after he asked senior Chinese colonel Zhou Qichao about cooperation on cybersecurity risks associated with artificial intelligence.
Albanese’s speech comes as Australia seeks to stabilize its relationship with China after three years of diplomatic freezes and trade blocs that Beijing is now easing.
China buys the bulk of Australia’s valuable iron ore and is its largest trading partner.
The United States is Australia’s biggest security ally, and Beijing has criticized the deal announced in March to buy US nuclear-powered submarines.
Australia is set to spend A$368 billion ($250 billion) over three decades on the submarine programme, part of a broader security pact with the United States and Britain known as AUKUS.
Australia is also part of the Five Eyes intelligence gathering and sharing network, along with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand – a group that Chinese officials say is part of a “Cold War mentality” in the West and an effort to contain its rise.
Since its election in May 2022, the Albanian Workers’ Party government has sought closer ties with ASEAN countries. The Australian Minister of Defense said that as great power competition continues in the region, his country is focused on deterring conflict and deepening engagement with partners, including Pacific Island and Southeast Asian countries.
($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Joe Brock, Greg Torode, Kanupriya Kapoor, Shinjoy Kok, Chin Lin and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Jerry Doyle
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