Thai Premier to speak at Shangri-La Dialogue

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha will deliver the keynote address at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha will deliver the keynote address at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.-- PHOTO: REUTERS

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be addressing global defence policymakers and security analysts gathered this evening at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

There will be 612 delegates representing Asean countries, Asia, Europe, China and the United States at the security summit, which also acts as a platform for bilateral meetings involving both allied and rival states.

The summit, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is likely to be dominated by discussions on the South China Sea, as it was last year.

China, whose claims to the resource-rich waterway overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, has bristled at what it considers US interference in a regional issue.

While the Asian giant has reclaimed vast tracts of land from the sea to bolster its military reach, the US has sailed close by those islands in what it calls "freedom of navigation" operations.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration - at the request of the Philippines - is expected to make a ruling in the coming weeks on the South China Sea.

But China has not only vowed not to recognise this, but also flexed its economic and diplomatic muscle to stave off the possibility of a unified Asean position after the ruling.

Much of the spotlight on this weekend's dialogue is expected to fall on US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who warned last week that "China's actions could erect a Great Wall of self-isolation". Beijing in response accused him of harbouring a "Cold War" mentality.

China's delegation to the dialogue will be led by Admiral Sun Jianguo, the deputy chief of general staff, who also attended the event last year.

Another key issue at the forum will be terrorism. For years, regional governments have been wary of the widening reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the threat posed by the return of Middle East-trained extremist fighters. Their fears were heightened when ISIS claimed responsibility for a grenade and shooting attack in downtown Jakarta in January that left four civilians dead.

Other sessions at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue will focus on the North Korean threat, cyber security, military competition in Asia and irregular migration.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January. Even as the United Nations slapped tough new sanctions on Pyongyang in March, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed his country had developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit onto ballistic missiles, a threatening prospect for its neighbours.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2016, with the headline 'Thai Premier to speak at Shangri-La Dialogue'. Print Edition | Subscribe