Pacific News Minute: Defense Ministers Gather for Shangri La Security Conference in Singapore

May 30, 2018

The Merlion Statue in Merlion Park, Singapore
Credit Merlion444 / Wikipedia

Singapore is set to host the meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 – if it happens. But this week, defense ministers from around the Asia-Pacific are gathering there for an annual conference. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

It’s called the Shangri La Dialogue, created in 2001 as a security forum for the Indo-Pacific.

The keynote address this year will be delivered by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other speakers include U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis. But informal contacts are at least as important as the set piece speeches and seminars. And there is plenty to talk about, from North Korea to the evolving Rohingya crisis and the revival of the Quad – the still nascent alliance among the United States, Australia, Japan and India. 

And the conference begins amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea. Last week, the United States sent a cruiser and a destroyer through the disputed Paracel Islands. So far as we know, this is the first time that two warships have conducted one of these Freedom of Navigation patrols. Beijing protested what it called a serious infringement of Chinese sovereignty.

USS Sampson and Pinkney
Credit Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr

Earlier this month, China landed strategic bombers on Woody Island, its biggest base in the Paracels, for the first time, and the United States disinvited China from RIMPAC – the bi-annual naval exercises off Hawaii.

Pentagon Spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan cited China’s militarization of the South China Sea; specifically, the installation of military radars, and anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles on Woody Island in the Paracels, and on China’s man-made islands further south in the Spratleys.