US Defence Secretary to speak at Shangri-La Dialogue

Making his first trip to S-E Asia, he will talk about America's Indo-Pacific strategy

United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, seen here speaking after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month, tweeted that the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue will be a "great" opportunity to discuss security c
United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, seen here speaking after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem last month, tweeted that the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue will be a "great" opportunity to discuss security challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.PHOTO: REUTERS

United States Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin will speak on the US' Indo-Pacific strategy when he takes part in the annual Shangri-La Dialogue from June 4 to 5, the Pentagon said early yesterday.

The summit's London-based organiser, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), added that this will mark Mr Austin's first trip to South-east Asia, and that on top of delivering an on-the-record speech, he will be conducting bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sidelines.

Cancelled last year because of the pandemic, the Shangri-La Dialogue is resuming as an in-person gathering of high-level defence policymakers from around the world, with an event "bubble" centred on the Singapore hotel it is named after.

Mr Austin tweeted that the event will be a "great" opportunity to discuss security challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.

IISS-Asia executive director James Crabtree said on the same platform that a host of ministers from Asia, Europe and the Middle East are confirmed speakers at the event in Singapore.

At a webinar yesterday, Mr Crabtree said: "The big theme will be the relationship between the US and China - two of the most watched sessions at the Shangri-La Dialogue involve the US Defence Secretary... and also the senior representative of the Chinese military.

"A lot of attention will be paid to the messaging that comes out between the two big powers, but also how other players in the region are positioning themselves relative to that."

US defence secretaries are a regular fixture at the dialogue, with Mr Austin's predecessors - Mr Patrick Shanahan, Mr James Mattis and Mr Ash Carter - making consecutive appearances in recent years.

In 2019, China sent its Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, after eight years of dispatching only low-level officials to the security summit.

The names of other confirmed speakers and attendees for this year were not immediately available, but IISS said more details will be shared in the coming weeks.

On April 27, during their first bilateral meeting, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen invited his Malaysian counterpart Ismail Sabri Yaakob to attend the dialogue.

Dr Ng also had an introductory phone conversation with Mr Austin on March 3. Dr Ng said at the time that he was looking forward to working closely with Mr Austin to ensure continued stability, peace and progress in the region, while the Pentagon chief expressed appreciation for the regional access that Singapore provides to US forces.

Mr Austin is a former four-star general who oversaw US military operations in the Middle East under then President Barack Obama. He was nominated for his current role by current President Joe Biden and his subsequent confirmation in January made him the first African American secretary of defence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2021, with the headline 'US Defence Secretary to speak at Shangri-La Dialogue'. Subscribe