At this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, China sent a lower-ranking delegation than in years past. Previously, China’s representative was a deputy chief from Joint Staff; this year Beijing sent a lieutenant general. India did not attend.
US Defense Secretary Mattis commented that China’s man-made islands undermine stability and that China has contempt for other nations’ interests and disregards international law. As expected, China took exception, calling the remarks “irresponsible”.
More interesting were the responses of the under dogs…
Small players know they are in a tug of war between the US and China over who has rights to which waters. Malaysia’s main reported talking points seemed to be on regional safety and rule of law. When Malaysia’s Defense Minister commented that a China-only “code” would not prevent all clashes, China’s lieutenant general rebutted with a question of what a “perfect code” would look like.
This is telling. It becomes more and more clear how China views itself in these talks, as a lieutenant general among ministers and rebutting Malaysia as one would a peer. China is clearly withdrawing, responding to the international community as already being an outcast. While the West and the press have tried to paint China as the villain, much more so than may be appropriate, China’s response only perpetuates that view among Western taxpayers and now smaller players in China’s back yard.
A group affiliated with Taiwan’s Association of University Professors are calling for Taiwan’s president to declare Taiwan’s sovereignty. This comes in the over-lapping contexts of regional talks and the ongoing situation of China having arrested Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲). The group called for Taiwan to boycott some upcoming talks with China to make a point to the international community.