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Shangri-La Dialogue: How a British Think Tank Shapes Asia’s Defence Discourse

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The Shangri-La Dialogue, widely regarded as the Asia-Pacific region’s foremost defence dialogue, derives its name from the mythical utopia depicted in the 90-year-old novel “Lost Horizon.” Over the weekend, the 20th edition of the dialogue took place at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel, providing a platform for frank discussions on critical defence issues. The contrasting imagery of Shangri-La’s peaceful valley against the backdrop of strategic challenges has intrigued journalists since the inaugural event in 2002.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by a British think tank, has become a hallmark of Asia’s unique approach to defence summits. Generously supported by the Singapore government, the dialogue breaks away from traditional conference norms. While it lacks a consensus-driven agenda or a final communique, it encourages public sessions where defence ministers deliver speeches, field questions, and engage in vigorous debates.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by a British think tank, has become a hallmark of Asia’s unique approach to defence summits.

Behind the scenes, the meeting rooms and corridors of the hotel witness a bustling flurry of bilateral and multilateral discussions. It is a sight to behold as US defence secretaries lead a procession of high-ranking military officials, rushing to their next meeting. In recent years, the Chinese delegation has also grown in size, mirroring their American counterparts.

Dr John Chipman, a renowned British strategist, has presided over 130 plenary sessions across the 20 dialogues, ensuring the smooth flow of discussions with his distinctive authoritative yet polite demeanor.

The 20th Shangri-La Dialogue boasted an impressive count of 121 bilateral meetings, with representatives from 54 nations in attendance. Thirty-four government ministers, accompanied by numerous military leaders, added gravitas to the event.

At the heart of this prestigious defence dialogue lies the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a British think tank responsible for its conception and organization. Dr John Chipman, a renowned British strategist, has presided over 130 plenary sessions across the 20 dialogues, ensuring the smooth flow of discussions with his distinctive authoritative yet polite demeanor.

Shangri-La Dialogue: Unveiling the Asia-Pacific’s Premier Defence Dialogue’s Mythical Origins and Modern Significance

In its early years, Shangri-La Dialogue faced skepticism from China due to its British origins. However, as the dialogue gained prominence, China’s seniority within the event grew, culminating in the first appearance of the Chinese defence minister in 2011.

The dialogue’s format grants the US defence secretary the opening session on Saturday, while China’s defence minister takes the same slot on Sunday. This exclusive session allows both nations to address key issues separately, unlike other defence ministers who engage in sessions of three.

Notably, the Shangri-La Dialogue served as a catalyst for ASEAN defence ministers to convene their inaugural group meeting in 2006. Subsequently, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, involving eight dialogue partners, was established in 2010.

The IISS’s instrumental role in facilitating this regional architecture underscores its commitment to contributing to Asia’s security landscape.

As Dr John Chipman approaches his 30th year with the IISS, he reflects on the dialogue’s growth and influence. Chipman’s close ties with Singapore have inspired his future role as the executive chair of IISS, akin to Singapore’s Minister Mentor position, following in the footsteps of the late Lee Kuan Yew.

Chipman’s unwavering dedication to the Shangri-La Dialogue ensures that the platform continues to serve as an imperative space for defence dialogue in an increasingly complex Asian region.

The enduring legacy of the Shangri-La Dialogue remains paramount, as the challenges facing Asia demand ongoing discussions to foster strategic stability and envision a secure future for the region.

NEWS DESK
NEWS DESKhttp://thinktank.pk
News Desk, where most of the News Item edit for THE THINK TANK JOURNAL editor@thinktank.pk

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