The 19th edition of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue was held from 10 to 12 June 2022. The dialogue was held for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, amidst mounting global unrest following the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Tensions are also escalating between China and the US in the Indo-Pacific region, where there are fears of regional spillover from the war in Ukraine and a possible repeat of the Ukrainian scenario in Taiwan.
The 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue was characterized by the following points, which can be summarized as follows:
1. First meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic: The 19th edition of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue was held between 10 and 12 June 2022, after the event had been suspended for two years (in 2020 and 2021) due to the COVID-19 outbreak and corresponding precautionary measures.
2. Beijing’s efforts to promote its own narrative and viewpoints: Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe participated in the Shangri-La Dialogue 2022 for the first time since 2011. This can be understood as an indication of Beijing’s efforts to promote its narrative on regional and international affairs and those of the Chinese people. China might also use such regional security forums to ease other regional players’ fears of the "Chinese threat" as depicted by the West. Similarly, the Chinese minister of national defense accused the US of trying to turn Asia-Pacific countries against China.
3. Tripartite defense collaboration: The Australian and Japanese defense ministers and US Secretary of Defense held a meeting during the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. They issued a tripartite statement condemning Russian military operations in Ukraine and calling on Moscow to immediately withdraw its forces. They warned against unilateral action, especially in Taiwan, and stressed the importance of nuclear non-proliferation in the Korean peninsula. The three countries also stressed their commitment to furthering international efforts to counter the serious threat posed by North Korea.
4. First meeting between Canberra and Beijing’s defense ministers: Australian Minister of Defense Richard Marles met with his Chinese counterpart Fenghe for talks, following a period of strained bilateral relations. This was the first meeting in three years between the defense ministers from the two countries, which lent particular importance to the occasion. It was also the first meeting following the most recent Australian elections and raises questions about the new Australia prime minister’s handling of relations with China.
5. First meeting between US Secretary of Defense and Chinese defense minister: The meeting held between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart Fenghe was the first of its kind between the two prominent defense officials since both assumed their posts. This was also the first meeting of its kind under the Biden administration.
6. China’s delegation exits during Zelensky’s speech: The Chinese delegation left the venue during a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had joined the dialogue through video conference. Zelensky highlighted the famine looming in Asia and Africa due to the interruption of grain supply from Ukraine, as well as global risks associated with the Russian intervention. This move by China’s delegation signaled its support for Russia in the Ukraine conflict.
The 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue tackled several key issues regarding the nature of security threats and dilemmas in the Indo-Pacific region in addition to the war in Ukraine. These issues included the following:
1. Tripartite agreement on containing Pyongyang’s missiles: During the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue, South Korean Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup, Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi, and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met in Singapore and agreed to strengthen efforts to counter the threat posed by North Korea’s missiles. These efforts will include joint military exercises, including trainings on missile alerts and tracking ballistic missiles.
2. Ukraine highlights global risks associated with Russia’s intervention: During his speech over video conference, Zelensky emphasized that his country would win the current war against Russia and discussed the western position on the war. Zelensky also drew attention to the risks associated with the war to galvanize additional support for his country. He stated that there were thousands of missiles being launched against the people of Ukraine and that these attacks were preventing them from using their agricultural resources. Zelensky added that the world would face an acute food security crisis if the suspension of Ukrainian grains exports should continue. He urged Western countries and the international community in general to stop the Russian military operation in Ukraine and to make clear to Moscow that its actions would have grave consequences.
3. Ukraine calls to reform the UN system: During his speech, Zelensky highlighted the importance of reforming the UN system by requiring the UN to respond to all forms of aggression. According to Zelensky, the UN and especially the UN Security Council do not fairly represent all countries. He argued that these reforms should be adopted in order to respond to any aggression at the international level, and not only Russia’s aggression.
4. Washington’s aversion to a conflict with Beijing: Austin stated in his speech during the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue that Washington wanted to deescalate tensions with China and avoid any conflict, even though it has accused China of becoming more hostile in Asia, especially near Taiwan. This does not necessarily mean that the US will tolerate Chinese interests in Taiwan. Austin tried to assuage regional concerns by clearly indicating that Washington would not compel any country to take its side against China and that Indo-Pacific countries should have the freedom of choice.
5. Japan’s growing concerns about joint Chinese-Russian military exercises: During his speech at the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue, Kishi criticized Chinese-Russian joint military exercises for exacerbating tensions in the East Asia region. Kishi said that Japan was surrounded by actors who owned or manufactured nuclear weapons, and who showed a blatant disregard for the regulations around possession of such weapons. He characterized China as a country looking to start a fight. Moreover, he indicated that the security of Taiwan Strait is critical to Japan’s security. For his part, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated in his keynote at the Shangri-La Dialogue that Tokyo aims to procure its own offensive weapons and increase its defense spending.
6. Canada accuses China of buzzing its North Korea reconnaissance flights: During her speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Canadian Minister of National Defense Anita Anand drew attention to China’s worrying and unprofessional behavior in harassing its reconnaissance aircraft near North Korea. She said that Canada needed to ensure the safety of its pilots, who were operating under UN mandate to ensure that North Korea was not dodging sanctions imposed upon the country.
7. China mixes assertive and reconciliatory approaches: Fenghe’s statements showed a mixture of both assertive and reconciliatory approaches to relations with the US, albeit leaning towards the former. The Chinese minister of national defense called for stable US-China relations as vital to maintaining global peace. On the other hand, he stated that his country would fight until the very end to prevent Taiwan from declaring independence, warning that those who "pursue Taiwanese independence" would "come to no good end." He highlighted the strength and determination of China’s military forces in protecting its territory. Fenghe called on Washington to include China in its plans and to stop distorting China’s image and interfering with its internal affairs and interests, noting that US-China relations were going through a rough patch.
8. US concerns regarding upcoming elections in Burma: Counselor of the US Department of State Derek Chollet voiced his concerns about Myanmar’s ruling military council’s commitment to holding new elections in August 2023. Chollet stated that Burma’s announcement of these intentions could be an attempt to mislead the region and the international community. He ruled out the possibility that the military council might actually be intending to hold free and transparent elections.
In conclusion, China and its actions in the South China Sea and Taiwan strait constituted a significant part of the 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual conference on security in Asia. The dialogue also shed light on the war in Ukraine, which has become a global problem with spillover into Asia and elsewhere. This edition of the dialogue was especially important since it was the first since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The dialogue, which came at a time of increasingly complex security risks worldwide, attracted 42 countries and enabled defense officials from various nations to meet. The talks were not limited to those between allies, but also included talks among countries with strained relations that had not previously been able to hold joint defense meetings.