Shangri-La Dialogue: The New "Convergence"

AMC's Graeme Acton is at this years Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Founded in 1958, the IISS is the leading global authority on geopolitics and strategy, and acting as a conduit for analysis and debate on issues around geopolitics, power, and conflict.

 US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has appeared at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, promoting what he described as the “New Convergence” among nations in the region.

Harking back to developments across the Indo-Pacific over the last three years, Secretary Austin hailed what he described as a “stronger, more resilient, and more capable network of partnerships.” 

He was referring to the end of the "hub-and-spokes" model used by Washington for so long when it came to Indo-Pacific security.

“Today we're seeing something quite different, this new convergence is not a single alliance or coalition, but instead something unique to the Indo-Pacific—a set of overlapping and complementary initiatives and institutions, propelled by a shared vision and a shared sense of mutual obligation.”

A retired four-star general who saw active service as commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Lloyd Austin ended his military career as head of Us Central Command, responsible for all personnel in the Middle East and across most of Asia.

He’s been a regular at the Shangri-La Dialogue in recent times - this year he was back to again emphasise the commitment of the US to the region,

“The United States can be secure only if Asia is secure. That's why the United States has long maintained our presence in this region. And that's why we continue to make the investments necessary to meet our commitments to our allies and partners.” he told delegates.

He went on to identify specific joint operations between the US, India, Japan, and many others.

It was an impressive list of agreements and initiatives with countries aligning themselves with the US in various ways, both economic and security based.

But while Mr Austin views these new and developing partnerships as signs of “convergence”, in some other Asian capitals the US strategy is seen by some as threatening, and part of a wider environment where smaller Asian nations are forced to “hedge”, to send ambiguous messages about support for one side or other in the China-US rivalry.  

Southeast Asian states crave a stable geo-political environment, they don’t want to be forced to take sides in a hegemonic rivalry in which Washington or Beijing could conclude that the smaller state’s security interests oppose theirs.

Maintaining a strategy of hedging, especially by the smaller states of the region, will doubtless become more difficult as the great powers build walls to separate themselves economically and technologically.

While Mr Austin gave a strong and wide-ranging summary of new US initiatives in the region, his stance was questioned by Shangri-La Delegate, Chinese Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng.

General Jing described the US strategy as intended to “to create division, provoke confrontation and undermine stability”. He also accused Austin of planning to develop an Asian version of NATO.

“It only serves the selfish geopolitical interests of the US and runs counter to the trend of history and the shared aspirations of regional countries for peace, development and win-win cooperation,” said Jing, who is currently the deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission.

Secretary Austin today lauded a “new era of security” in the Asia Pacific – just yesterday he held a crucial meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Dong Jun, during which they agreed to resume military-to-military communications amid efforts to ease tensions.

But while relations between the US and China have warmed recently, the essential rivalry remains.


  • Asia Media Centre