Japan PM Suga set to headline Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to call for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is set to be the keynote speaker at this year's Shangri-La Dialogue from June 4 to 5, The Straits Times has learnt.

The organiser of the major security summit, London's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said in a statement to ST on Tuesday (May 11) that its invitation to Mr Suga to be keynote speaker "is being considered favourably".

A senior Japanese government official told ST that Japan sees it as an honour that Mr Suga has been invited as a keynote speaker to one of the most influential forums on peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

Mr Suga is considering attending the forum, and his decision will be contingent on the Covid-19 situation domestically in Japan, said the official.

The country, which has seen over 600,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, is in the throes of a state of emergency that was initially due to expire on Tuesday but was prolonged to May 31.

Earlier on Tuesday, Japanese wire agency Kyodo News also reported, citing government sources, that Mr Suga was "slated to give a keynote speech" at the Dialogue.

Kyodo added that Mr Suga is expected to call for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This mirrors the agenda for the United States, which confirmed last Tuesday that its Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin would attend the fully in-person event.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the most recent keynote speaker in 2019, with the Dialogue cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The last Japanese premier to headline the Dialogue was Mr Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe in 2014.

Mr Suga's government is also facing mounting public pressure over plans to proceed with the Tokyo Olympic Games from July 23 to Aug 8. With a party leadership election and a general election both due in the next few months, a local poll released on Monday showed that support for the 72-year-old was at its lowest since he took office in September last year.

Should Mr Suga attend the Dialogue, he would be among high-level defence policymakers from more than 40 countries around the world to gather in an event "bubble" centred on the Singapore hotel it is named after.

According to a delegate agenda, other topics to be covered at the summit include collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region, environmental threats, and artificial intelligence and new technologies. These will be touched on over six plenary sessions on June 5, with a ministerial roundtable at midday on top of bilateral meetings on June 4.

The event bubble will enable fully in-person meetings and discussions between high-level defence policymakers to take place freely, as they will be able to move around the grounds with minimal restrictions.

IISS has said it will continue to closely partner the Singapore Government to ensure the "highest levels of safety" for participants.

More ministers from Asia, Europe and the Middle East are set to confirm their attendance in the coming weeks.

Additional reporting by Walter Sim

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