The annual Shangi-La Dialogue hosted by IISS in Singapore is underway and goes until Sunday. In past years, the Dialogue has proven a major forum for hashing out critical Asian security issues, and often has been a flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and China. Some issues to watch this year:
1. Is the U.S. backing off its tough stance on the South China Sea?
After two years of increasingly aggressive Chinese posturing on the South China Sea, last summer the Obama administration, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, took a much tougher line on the Sea, warning China that the U.S. considered resolution of any claims to the Sea a core American national interest. China was, unsurprisingly, not happy about Hillary Clinton’s approach, and Beijing has continued its strong-arm tactics, bullying Vietnam, the Philippines, and other claimants this year. But in recent speeches Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has downplayed any U.S.-China friction over the Sea, instead highlighting the many other areas of potential cooperation between Washington and Beijing. But a number of Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam, worry that the U.S. no longer has their back, and that the Obama administration’s softer approach will only further embolden Beijing. Look for this to play out further at the Dialogue.