June 4, 2014

Uncharming and Offensive

China’s ham-fisted attempt at international comity at the Shangri-La Dialogue is a worrisome harbinger of regional aggression. 

The following article originally appeared on Foreign Policy on June 4, 2014. An excerpt is below. The full text can be found here.

SINGAPORE - — By the standards of Asian security summits -- generally carefully choreographed and stilted affairs filled with coded messages and platitudes about cooperation -- the May 30-June 1 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore was extraordinary. There had been much speculation as to how China would respond to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's keynote address at this annual event organized by the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, and how Beijing would represent itself in the aftermath of its November extension of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over disputed
islands in the East China Sea and recent run-ins with the Philippines and Vietnam over contested territory in the South China Sea.

Much to the surprise of many in attendance, China opted to field a large delegation that included 12 officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) -- twice as much brass as the official U.S. delegation. And the officers, along with Chinese civilian officials and scholars, were omnipresent, speaking up and challenging speakers at every session in a bid to present Chinese viewpoints on everything from disputed territory and cyber espionage to defense spending and international law.

This may have been intended as a charm offensive, but it proved not very charming and somewhat offensive.