Chinese Defense Minister to attend Shangri-La Dialogue; throws possibility of a meeting with US defense chief into spotlight
Published: May 31, 2022 10:15 PM
Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe

Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe


Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe will attend the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in early June, the ministry announced Tuesday. With speculation rising over the possibility of a first in-person meeting between Wei and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the event amid tensions across the Taiwan Straits, Chinese experts said on Tuesday that both sides should keep communicating, despite low expectations for a tangible result.

By invitation, Wei will attend the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue and visit Singapore from June 8 to 12, China's Ministry of National Defense announced in a press release on Tuesday.

Wei will speak on "China's vision on regional order," in which he will discuss China's policies, ideas and concrete actions in practicing true multilateralism, safeguarding regional peace and stability, and promoting the development of a community of a shared future for mankind, according to the press release.

Wei will meet with leaders of delegations from other countries to exchange views on topics like international and regional affairs as well as bilateral defense and security cooperation.  Wei will also hold talks with leaders from the Singaporean government, including its defense ministry,   the press release said.

The annual Shangri-La Dialogue is one of Asia's biggest security summits and will take place in Singapore from June 10 to 12 this year. The event did not take place in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that China and the US are working to finalize what would be the first face-to-face meeting between their top defense officials on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, saying such a meeting would take on extra significance because of increased tensions between China and the US over the island of Taiwan.

Wei and Austin in April had their first phone call since the latter became US Defense Secretary in January 2021, during which Wei stressing the importance of the Taiwan question, while demanding the US to stop its military provocations at sea, and not to throw mud or threaten China with the Ukraine issue. Observers hoped it could provide stability to the two countries' military-to-military ties and avoid and reduce misjudgments by letting the US better understand China's bottom line. 

However, US President Joe Biden said during his recent visit to Japan in May that the US would intervene militarily if the Chinese mainland were to reunify with the island of Taiwan by force.

A series of actions taken by the US recently are not beneficial to the atmosphere of a meeting between Chinese and US defense ministers, Zhuo Hua, an international affairs expert at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy of Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is a conference manipulated by Western countries and a platform for attacking China. Even if Wei and Austin meet, any substantial talks could be challenging given that the recent US moves have seriously harmed the basis of mutual trust, Zhuo said.

A military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday that while it remains unknown if Wei and Austin will meet in Singapore, such a meeting in person is needed, because both sides have too many problems that should be discussed.

China must stress that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, which is a fact no one can change. The US, on the other hand, will likely accuse China, the expert predicted.

Even so, Wei and Austin should talk face to face, because it is just different in person than on the phone, the expert said.

"If Chinese and US defense ministers attend the Shangri-La Dialogue but do not meet, it would be big news, since this will be a key indicator for the world to observe where China-US relations are headed," the expert said.