B S Raghavan

A Shangri-La for world security

Updated on: Jun 12, 2011

The dictionary describes Shangri-La as a remote beautiful imaginary place where life approaches perfection. Designing and erecting such an idyllic superstructure for world security is the ambitious aim of the Shangri-La Dialogue of top policy-makers in governments and Defence and intelligence analysts in the academia and think-tanks organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, every year for the past nine years at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore (from which the Dialogue takes its name).

The tenth Dialogue this year, held on June 3-5, was notable for the farewell appearance of the US Defence Secretary of Defence, Mr Robert Gates, and the first time attendance of the Defence Minister of China, General Liang Guanglie.

It also saw an impressive performance by India's Minister of State for Defence, Mr Pallam Raju, ably supported by Mr Manish Tiwari, MP and spokesperson for the Indian National Congress.

The subjects taken up for discussion were remarkable for their range and depth, taking in their sweep emerging security challenges in the Asia-Pacific, new military doctrines and their capabilities in Asia, the new distribution of power and its implications, China's international security cooperation, possible responses to new maritime security threats, and building strategic confidence and avoiding worst-case outcomes.

All eyes were naturally on General Liang who, as is evident from the accounts in the world media, was at his persuasive best, coming through as a professional to his finger tips and expressing himself with becoming dignity and restraint. In his address at the plenary and the long question and answer session following it, he seemingly put all the cards on the table as regards the intentions and approaches of China pertaining to relations with countries and security cooperation.

China's ‘core interests'

Affirming “multilateralism and inclusive regionalism in working with countries from both within and outside Asia to build regional security cooperation architectures that are distinctively Asian”, he also explicitly enumerated the corner-stones of China's “unswerving” policy as: Respect and equality among nations, and accommodation of each other's core interests and major concerns; mutual understanding and trust; sharing “weal and woe”; not engaging in any alliance targeting at a third party; openness, inclusiveness, solidarity and cooperation; peaceful development; a Defence policy defensive in nature; forging friendly and good-neighbourly relations; regional peace and stability through security cooperation; and adherence to international obligations through security cooperation.

Asked by Mr Manish Tiwari to spell out China's core interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean area, General Liang gave out a long list that virtually amounted to a “Hands Off” warning, as it included anything that had to do with sovereignty, stability, security on land, sea, or air, and form of government; any attempt to thwart China in pursuing the path of socialism; encouraging any part of China to secede; and the goals of its national economic and social development.

Finest moment

Mr Pallam Raju got well-deserved praise for setting out for the first time in an international forum India's concept of a new world security order built on the cardinal principles of inclusiveness (extending from the Suez to the Pacific and bringing within its purview the entire Eurasian landmass), plurality and consensus. His finest moment was, when, to a question from the Chairman of the IISS on India's attitude were another 26/11 to occur, and whether India would be led to implement its Cold Start Defence doctrine, Mr Raju calmly replied that if a provocation were to happen again, “it would be hard to justify self-restraint to our people”.

The US Defence Secretary, Mr Gates, attending his last international function contented himself with assuring the audience that the US would continue to interest itself in Asia-Pacific despite the challenges his country was facing at home, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.

India should take the lead in organising similar brainstorms, focusing, in particular, on India-China-Pakistan relations with reference to China's pampering of Pakistan, India-China border dispute, China's core interests and vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear assets to jihadi raids.

Published on June 16, 2011

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