It was a sign of the Shangri-La Dialogue’s declining relevance when China sent a low-level delegation and India no delegation at all to this year’s talkfest. To ensure its future standing, this important meeting needs to shift its focus to achieving concrete security cooperation outcomes.

The Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), one of the highest-level regional security meetings, attracts much media attention each year. However, the relevance of the SLD to regional security is under serious challenge.

The SLD has become an occasion to showcase different, yet clichéd, official lines for regional actors, rather than a place for real dialogue. While US Secretary of Defense James Mattis tried to ease concerns about the US commitment to the region, China reiterated its idea of building a ‘community of common destiny’ and cooperative security. However, neither the United States nor China offered any substantially new ideas on how to address various security challenges in the region, such as the rising threat of terrorism or the looming crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

It is no surprise that Australian, Japanese and US delegates openly criticised China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. However, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s call for respecting a rules-based order fell on deaf ears. No one knows what the so-called ‘rules’ are or will be in the future because the United States, the builder of the liberal order after World War II, has started to renege on its commitments, first to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and recently to the Paris climate accord.

The Southeast Asian countries have seemed to stay cool, and the South China Sea (SCS) situation has improved dramatically since last year. The negotiation between China and ASEAN states on the long-awaited Code of Conduct (COC) is gradually progressing. The SCS no longer dominates the headlines for the capitals in Southeast Asia, although the US Navy’s high-profile freedom of navigation operation in the SCS just 10 days before the SLD reminded the region of the unsettled disputes.

Please click here to read the full “How to save the Shangri-La Dialogue” article in the Australian Outlook by Griffith Asia Institute Member, Professor Kai He.