Singapore (Reuters) – Asia’s top security meeting opened on Friday, with intensifying competition between the United States and China expected to dominate a weekend of high-level speeches, backroom military dealings and delicate diplomacy.
The Shangri-La Dialogue, which attracts senior military officers, diplomats, weapons makers and security analysts from around the globe, is taking place June 2-4 in Singapore.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will deliver the keynote address on Friday evening, before U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and China’s new Defence Minister Li Shangfu are expected to trade barbs in speeches over the weekend.
The relationship between the U.S. and China is at its lowest point in decades, as the two superpowers remain deeply divided over everything from the sovereignty of Taiwan to cyber espionage and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Hopes that the summit in Singapore could be a chance to mend ties between Washington and Beijing were dealt a blow last week when Li declined an offer to meet with Austin.
Li, who was named China’s new defence minister in March, was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 over weapons purchases from Russia.
Albanese’s speech comes as Australia tries to strike a delicate balance between its strong ties to the U.S. and its often tense relationship with China, which buys the bulk of its valuable iron ore and is its biggest trading partner.
A deal announced in March to buy U.S. nuclear-powered submarines threatens to strain Australia’s fragile ties with Beijing, which has been critical of the plan.
Australia is due to spend A$368 billion ($250 billion) over three decades on the submarine programme, part of a broader security pact with the U.S. and Britain known as AUKUS.
Australia is also part of the Five Eyes intelligence collection and sharing network, along with the U.S., Britain, Canada and New Zealand – a grouping that Chinese officials say is part of the West’s lingering “cold war mentality” and an attempt to contain its rise.
Since being elected in May 2022, the Albanese Labor government has sought closer ties with ASEAN countries. Australia’s defence chief has said that as great power competition in the region persists, his country is focused on deterring conflict and deepening engagement with partners, including Pacific island and South East Asian nations.