Shangri-La Dialogue on June 4-5 in Singapore cancelled due to Covid-19 situation

The dialogue was slated to be a fully in-person event held within a bubble at Shangri-La Hotel. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The Shangri-La Dialogue scheduled for June 4 to 5 in the Republic has been cancelled, the organisers announced on Thursday (May 20).

A spokesman for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said it was "with regret and sadness" that the security summit had to be called off.

It was previously announced that the dialogue would be a fully in-person event held within a bubble at Shangri-La Hotel. United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had confirmed his attendance, while Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had been invited to headline the event as keynote speaker.

"Unfortunately, the global Covid-19 situation has recently deteriorated, in part because of the rise of infectious new Covid variants," said the IISS spokesman. "In Singapore, there has been a rise in local cases, recently introduced new restrictions, and the prospect of further tightening cannot be ruled out - all of which creates uncertainty. Taken together, all of these various factors mean that holding an in-person Shangri-La Dialogue this year has become unviable."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said it supported the decision to cancel the dialogue "due to the continued uncertainties surrounding the global and local Covid-19 situation".

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also posted on Facebook, saying that earlier this year, IISS and Mindef were "quietly optimistic" that control measures and mass vaccinations under way in many countries would allow for a physical meeting in the Republic in June.

On the cancellation, he said: "Although regretful, it is the responsible course, with the health and safety of the local community and participants as the foremost consideration."

As recently as Monday, the IISS had reaffirmed its intentions to continue with the dialogue, in the wake of the World Economic Forum cancelling its special annual meeting scheduled to be held in Singapore in August.

The think-tank had said the same after a spike in local infections was reported last week.

On Thursday, the IISS spokesman noted that a "wide range" of defence ministers, senior officials, corporate leaders and influential strategists from Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe had confirmed their attendance.

Dr Ng said Singapore was heartened by the positive responses to the invitations, especially from Mr Suga and many defence ministers.

"Their commitment to be here in Singapore physically reflected the strong desire to have meaningful dialogue to deal with pressing transnational security issues that confront us all," he wrote.

"The cancellation of the Shangri-La Dialogue in no way reflects any reduced commitment to dialogue and engagement to promote peace and stability in Asia and beyond. Rather, it is yet another example of how Covid-19 has disrupted normalcy, in all facets of our lives and social discourse. We will find alternate and safer avenues for these important goals."

The IISS spokesman said the institute would plan for the return of the full in-person Shangri-La Dialogue in the middle of next year.

The cancellation of the Shangri-La Dialogue and World Economic Forum leaves the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, scheduled for Nov 16 to 19, as the only signature event on Singapore's calendar. If it proceeds, the conference will gather government leaders and top businessmen around the world - including Tesla boss Elon Musk - to discuss the global challenges of the day.

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