The Guardian • Issue #2103

Shangri-la an exercise in US coercion and bullying

Show of military air force

Photo: DVIDSHUB / Senior Airman Brittany Auld – flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

The Shangri-la Dialogue, a regular international gathering organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), has recently concluded in Singapore. Described as a “world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict” it is regularly attended by Defence Ministers and leaders from around the world. The IISS claims that the conference aims to “come up with fresh approaches.”

US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, used the conference to threaten China. Australian Defence Minister, Richard Marles, took the opportunity to further show Australia’s blind loyalty to the USA. China’s Defence Minister, Dong Jun, defended China’s position in the region while expressing the wish to overcome regional and international disputes. Ukrainian President Zelensky arrived and launched a predictable tirade.

A sad irony, implicit in the name of the conference went unnoticed. Shangri-la is an imagined utopia. It is a far-away land of perfection. Every year that the conference is held marks a further step away from ‘Shangri-la’ and a step closer to crisis and destruction.

Zelensky called for nations to attend the ‘peace’ conference in Switzerland, designed to present a united front against Russia in the Ukraine war. He accused China of being an “instrument” used by Russia to disrupt these ‘talks.’

Richard Marles’ speech was entirely in lockstep with the USA. He spoke of global “competition” stressing that this was between those who support the “global rules-based order” and the rest. He spoke of Gaza. He expressed his “horror” but emphasised that Israel is a “democratic state.”

He delivered the orthodox US view that the China-Russia relationship is “malign.” He showed concern that China’s “military capability … seeks to be on par with the United States,” going on to argue that China’s “support for Russia” (not toeing the US line) “raises important questions about the role it intends to play as a global actor.”

Marles used this confection to justify his government’s warmongering stance. He seemed proud that Australian annual defence spending will almost double over the coming decade to $100 billion, around 2.4 per cent of GDP. This economically crippling outlay is  to “deepen its alliance with the United States, including through enhanced force posture cooperation in Australia, as we welcome recent US force posture enhancements in Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere.” So much for seeking solutions to regional and global problems.

The Shangri-la meeting was, despite whatever spin the West might try to put on it, an exercise in attacking China. Lloyd Austin was hardly ambiguous in this. He repeated an oft-made statement of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific and that the US is “not going anywhere.”

Turning truth on its head Austin claimed  that US allies are “converging around these enduring beliefs: respect for sovereignty and international law. The free flow of commerce and ideas. Freedom of the seas and skies.” The Defence Secretary made it clear how this was to be implemented:

“The US military remains the most capable fighting force on Earth. With the support of Congress, this Administration has delivered major funding every year to keep it that way … We’re moving quickly to get those funds to our partners. The recently passed National-Security Supplemental also included major investments in our submarine industrial base to help strengthen our AUKUS partnership with Australia, and the United Kingdom.”

He went on at length explaining how this ‘convergence’ was being accomplished. “With Japan and the Republic of Korea, we have created a multi-year trilateral exercise plan. Its highlight is a new, named exercise that will allow our countries to train together in unprecedented ways … With Japan, we’re forward-stationing the most advanced formation in the United States Marine Corps. With the Philippines, we’re expanding US rotational access to four new sites in the Philippines through our Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement. With Papua New Guinea, we finalised a historic Defence Cooperation Agreement just last year. And with Australia, we’re moving out on major posture initiatives in every domain.”

In case anyone was in doubt as to how the US sees the region, Austin also described its role “vital” in the Indo-Pacific – together with “our friends” in the region.

In the face of such a blunt and aggressive position, China’s Defence Minister Dong Jun’s remarks were rational. He let it be known that China would defend its interests. “We will not allow anyone to bring geopolitical conflicts or any war, whether hot or cold, into our region. We will not allow any country or any force to create conflict and chaos in our region.” At the same time, he repeated that China remains “open to exchanges and cooperation with the US military,” but added that “this requires efforts from both sides.”

Austin concluded his address with a display of bluster, threat and intimidation by attacking anyone who disagrees with the USA’s plan for the world as “critics and propagandists” who “reject the rule of law” and “try to impose their will through coercion and aggression.”

“Rule of law” is pretty rich from the nation that won’t recognise the International Court of Justice, isn’t a signatory to the International Law of the Sea, and ignores UN resolutions on Israel.

Coercion and aggression? Whose? The USA’s! Austin speaks for an imperialist world view that recognises brute power as legitimate foreign policy.

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