Shangri La Dialogue 2015


Explore key maritime security developments from the 2015 Dialogue.

Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defense, United States

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s Saturday morning address was well-received by the Shangri-La audience. Carter’s speech included a strong stand against China’s building efforts in the South China Sea, and reaffirmed the United States’ intention to “fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” This was, however, embedded in a broader message was that all countries in Asia should have the opportunity to rise peacefully. Carter called for a freeze on land reclamation by all South China Sea claimants, and has reportedly since taken up the issue with Vietnam on a visit to Hanoi.

The Secretary also announced a $425 million dollar Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative to fund partner capacity building in the region. Carter’s speech follows upon a stronger stand by the United States in the South China Sea including a widely publicized P-8A Poseidon flight over reclaimed reefs which recorded Chinese attempts to ward off the plane from overflight and strong statements issued by President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Carter.

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Carter announced a new security initiative.

“Today, I am pleased to announce the DoD will be launching a new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. And thanks to the leadership of the senators here today and others, Congress has taken steps to authorise up to $425 million for these maritime capacity-building efforts.”

“Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.”

“The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states.”

“For our part, we’d like to set conditions for a gradual removal of our lethal arms embargo on Vietnam as soon as possible.”


Admiral Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief, General Staff Department, PLA, ChinaAdmiral Sun Jianguo’s speech and subsequent Q&A was less significant for what it did say than for what it didn’t say. The Admiral kept to the party line on land reclamation in the Spratly islands, describing it as “legitimate, justified, and reasonable,” while generally adopting a more moderate tone when compared to the powerful rhetoric shown by China in 2014.

Unlike last year where General Wang Guanzhong claimed to literally go off script, Admiral Sun kept tightly to his notes, refusing to answer questions and, according to some critics, missing “opportunities to address concerns about Chinese intentions and behavior” that had been raised throughout the conference.”

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Admiral Sun kept closely to script.

“China has exercised enormous restraint.”

“I want to reaffirm that these construction projects fall well within the scope of China’s sovereignty and are legitimate, justified and reasonable.”

“China has carried out construction on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea mainly for the purpose of improving the functions of the relevant islands and reefs and the working and living conditions of personnel stationed there.”

“Big countries should take on responsibilities for a big country and should not bully small countries. Small countries need to meet responsibilities for a small country, provoke no incident and refrain from hijacking regional security for selfish gains.”

“China and ASEAN should conclude a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea as soon as possible, so as to break the vicious cycle and not let disputes sour the broader relationship. If all parties adhere to international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), that is the best outcome.”


Gen Nakatani, Minister of Defense, Japan

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani’s speech at the Shangri La Dialogue stressed the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the importance of a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, and introduced the Shangri-La Dialogue Initiative (or SDI), Japan’s new plan to engage the region on rule of law, maritime security, and disaster response. How Japan’s SDI will take shape remains to be seen. The Shangri-La Dialogue comes in the wake of Japan and the United States issuing new defense guidelines, which have significantly revised U.S.-Japan maritime cooperation. The Japanese Diet is presently considering new security legislation that would allow Japan to take a more active defense role in the region.

With Taiwanese President Ma’s “South China Sea Peace Initiative,” Ashton Carter’s “Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative,” and now Japan’s “Shangri-La Dialogue Initiative,” there are now three active major-nation-led initiatives on maritime affairs in Asia. The Shangri-La Dialogue comes in the wake of Japan and the United States issuing new defense guidelines, which have significantly revised U.S.-Japan maritime cooperation.

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Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani reaffirmed close ties with the U.S.

“Japan and the U.S. have been conducting joint training in the South China Sea, and taking concrete cooperative measures to contribute to the maritime security in the region.”

“I would like to propose an idea that may guide us all present today: it is what we may call ‘The Shangri-La Dialogue Initiative,’ or ‘SDI,’ which consists of the following three elements: First, wider promotion of common rules and laws at sea and in the air in the region. Second, maritime and aerospace security. In order to ensure the safety of regional waters as a strategic focal point of our sea-lanes, it is with an extreme importance to enhance capabilities for maritime domain awareness and ISR with ASEAN countries. Third, improvement of our disaster response capability. Natural disaster is a common challenge that we face in this region.”

“People have noticed that we have increased our ISR presence in the Western Pacific over the last few years. This growth is specifically tied to the increasing activity and increasing uncertainty in the region, such as the aggressive land reclamation in the South China Sea.”


Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Minister of Defence, Malaysia Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein spoke at the Third Plenary Session: Preventing Conflict Escalation, on Saturday, May 30th of the 14th Asia Security Summit. His tone underscored the necessity to ratchet down tensions, calling the South China Sea the “elephant in the room.” Noting the delicate nature of the situation, Hishammuddin added, “It involves the dignity and ‘face’ of the nations involved.” Hishammuddin affirmed Malaysia’s support for a diplomatic solution, calling for a Code of Conduct to govern competing regional claims.

“This CoC would be the key instrument in ensuring the proper management of these vital sea lanes upon which so much and so many depend,” Hishammuddin said. In contrast to the lighter tone of other speakers at the summit, Hishammuddin solemnly warned, “If we are not careful, [the South China Sea] could certainly escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time, if not our history.”

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Malaysian Defense Minister Hussein reiterated the need for greater diplomacy and rule of law.

“This brings me, ladies and gentlemen, to the elephant in the room, namely the South China Sea. It is an old problem. It involves the dignity and ‘face’ of the nations involved. If we are not careful, it could certainly escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time, if not our history.”

“Malaysia is more than aware of what is at stake in the South China Sea. … We remain convinced that a Code of Conduct is the best way to govern the competing claims to the waters, and urge that consultations be intensified. … This CoC would be the key instrument in ensuring the proper management of these vital sea lanes upon which so much and so many depend.”

“We need greater military diplomacy, we need more intelligence exchanges and we need more forums of communication. But all of these will have little impact if nations cannot be honest, open and transparent with each other in terms of security challenges.”