The recently concluded Shangri-La Defense Summit in Singapore was dominated by tensions between China and the United States. In a barbed speech, China’s defense chief criticized the U.S. for its militarization of the South China Sea and its support for Taiwan, accusing the U.S. of being the “biggest driver of militarization” in the region. This drew a strong reaction from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who slammed China for its lack of military dialogue and its coercive tactics.
The rival visions for Asia presented by China and the U.S. were also a major point of contention at the summit. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to expand Chinese economic and political influence across Asia, was contrasted with the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which seeks to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific and counter Chinese expansionism. The U.S. also expressed concern about China’s growing military presence in the region and its attempts to undermine U.S. alliances with countries like Japan and South Korea.
Secretary Austin was clear in his message that the U.S. would not tolerate coercion and bullying from China. He emphasized the importance of upholding the rules-based international order and working with allies to promote stability and security in the region. The rift between the U.S. and China was front and center at the summit, with both sides taking strong positions on issues ranging from Taiwan and the South China Sea to cyber security and economic competition.
The Shangri-La Defense Summit highlighted the growing tensions between China and the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the challenges facing the region as a whole. With the two powers at odds over a range of issues, it remains to be seen how the U.S. and its allies will respond to China’s growing influence and assertiveness, and how China will seek to advance its interests while avoiding a wider conflict.