SINGAPORE, June 2 (Reuters) – Asia’s top security meeting kicked off on Friday with a fierce rivalry between the United States and China expected to dominate the weekend with high-level talks, background military operations and delicate diplomacy.
The Shangri-La Dialogue, which will attract senior military officers, diplomats, arms manufacturers and defense analysts from around the world, will be held in Singapore from June 2-4.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will deliver a keynote address on Friday evening, before US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and China’s new Defense Minister Li Shangfu are expected to trade talks over the weekend.
Relations between the United States and China are at their lowest point in decades as the two superpowers remain deeply divided over everything from Taiwan’s sovereignty to cyber espionage and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Hopes that the summit in Singapore would be an opportunity to mend ties between Washington and Beijing were dealt a blow last week when Li turned down an offer to meet with Austin.
Li, who was appointed China’s new defense minister in March, was sanctioned by the United States in 2018 for purchasing weapons from Russia.
There was a brief Sino-US conversation at the summit during a side session on cyber security.
US Director of National Intelligence Avril Hines said “we need to talk to China” after being questioned by Chinese senior colonel Zhu Qichao about cooperation on cyber security risks related to artificial intelligence.
Albanese’s speech comes as Australia seeks to strengthen its relationship with China after a three-year diplomatic freeze and trade sanctions that Beijing is now easing.
China buys most of Australia’s valuable iron ore and is its largest trading partner.
The US is Australia’s biggest defense partner and Beijing has criticized a deal announced in March to buy US nuclear-powered submarines.
Australia is to spend $US368 billion ($250 billion) on the submarine program, part of a wider defense deal with the US and Britain known as AUKUS.
Australia is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-gathering and sharing network, along with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand – part of what Chinese officials say is an attempt to contain the West’s lingering “Cold War mentality” and its rise. .
Since being elected in May 2022, the Albanian Labor government has sought closer ties with ASEAN countries. Australia’s defense chief has said his country is focused on preventing conflict and deepening engagement with partners, including Pacific Island and Southeast Asian nations, as major power struggles continue in the region.
($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Joe Brock, Greg Torode, Kanupriya Kapoor, Jinggui Kok, Chen Lin and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Additional reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Gerry Doyle
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