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Shangri-La Dialogue's success comes from not skirting issues: Defence minister Ng Eng Hen

Shangri-La Dialogue's success comes from not skirting issues: Defence minister Ng Eng Hen
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen expressed appreciation to the participants for attending the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 2.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE — The yardstick for measuring the success of security forums like the Shangri-La Dialogue should be whether real issues have been brought up and discussed, said Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

And in his eyes, the dialogue, which ran from May 31 to June 2, has been a success.

The thorny issues of territories contested in the South China Sea and Taiwan's independence were brought up and discussions were held frankly and robustly, and at a high level, he pointed out.

He cited the examples of China's Defence Minister Dong Jun making clear his country's stance on Taiwan in his plenary on June 2, as well as Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr warning of repercussions in the event of Filipino deaths in the South China Sea during his keynote speech on the opening evening.

Dr Ng, who spoke to reporters on the afternoon of the event's final day, noted that such forums are not the same as bilateral or multilateral negotiations, where more concrete outcomes are sought.

"That would be a very high bar," he said.

Instead, the defence and security professionals who participated in the 2024 Shangri-La Dialogue would have come away with a deeper feel of the thorny issues.

Dr Ng, on the morning of June 2, also spoke at the seventh plenary session of the dialogue, where he expressed appreciation to the participants for attending the event, and for their willingness to engage, listen, and sometimes do verbal combat.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, which is in its 21st edition this year, has come of age, he noted.

"I think it's a bit more realistic, less idealistic, but more practical."

Dr Ng said he was asked by reporters about his experiences with international counterparts at other similar events, such as the Xiangshan Forum in China.

These events tended to reflect the culture of their host countries, said Dr Ng.

He noted that difficult questions were posed in public at Western security forums, while they would appear to be impolite at the Xiangshan Forum.

Nevertheless, he noted that 2024's delegation from China at the Shangri-La Dialogue has learnt from their past participation, observing that they were quick to call for their own press conferences to issue their own rebuttals and to get their point across.

Touching on Admiral Dong's debut speech at the plenary session, where the Defence Minister spoke about China's approach to global security, Dr Ng said it was very clear and articulated China's point of view.

Dr Ng said that the increasing popularity of the Shangri-La Dialogue was a good outcome, with an increasing number of countries seeking opportunities for their leaders and defence officials to speak at the event.

This has resulted in an increase in the number of special sessions at 2024's event to cater to the increased demand for speaking opportunities.

The complexity of the logistics needed for the event's dinner has also been increasing, as more heads of states are now coming, which Dr Ng welcomed.

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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