Why It Matters

China's voice on security issues

China's Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Fan Changlong (right) shakes hands with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice (left) at the Bayi Building in Beijing on July 25, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
Healthway Toa Payoh Clinic in Toa Payoh Central. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

An announcement that China and Russia will hold a joint anti-missile drill next year was one of the few news points from a security dialogue that ended in Beijing on Wednesday.

Another was a detailed pitch by China for a new regional security framework, which could be part of a grand plan to expand its regional influence along with economic-centric initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The lack of tangible outcomes makes it easy to dismiss the Xiangshan Forum - billed as China's version of the Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore - as a talk shop. But the forum, together with other summits focused on defence, can - and does - play an increasingly crucial role in influencing opinion and building trust among regional defence and military personnel, which could in turn shape policies and actions. This is a key contribution, given the various flashpoints in the region, such as the South China Sea issue and North Korea.

The forum, which takes its name from the hotel venue in western Beijing's Fragrant Hills, has grown in scale and stature since it was upgraded in 2014 from an academic exchange to a semi-official dialogue and from a biennial to an annual event. The move is aimed at better projecting China's voice on security issues.


This year, it drew 400 delegates from more than 60 countries and international organisations, compared with 100 delegates at its 2006 debut. Central Military Commission vice-chairman Fan Changlong was the keynote speaker at last year's forum, which Asean defence ministers also attended. Representation from Western countries, however, has remained lacklustre. The US, for instance, and its ally Japan usually send academics or retired military officials.

This is a pity, since the forum allows for direct interaction with Chinese leaders and policymakers - and perhaps even an indirect opportunity to shape China's security policies and actions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'China's voice on security issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe