China will host ASEAN defense ministers for the first time in Beijing later this year, a military official said at Asia’s premier security summit this weekend.
According to Admiral Sun Jianguo in a speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, China will host the China-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Special Meeting in October this year, reportedly on the sidelines of the 6th Xiangshan Forum in Beijing. The Forum, which was upgraded to an annual, track 1.5 event last year, is one of several ways that Beijing is trying to promote its new Asian security concept, which envisions an ‘Asia for Asians.’ Some have even seen the Xiangshan Forum as China’s answer to the Shangri-La Dialogue itself.
“We are ready to discuss with other countries the way ahead for defense and security cooperation,” Sun said.
While the defense ministers have already been meeting under the ASEAN-China Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting – which saw its fourth iteration in Myanmar last year – China has been trying over the past few years to invite ASEAN defense ministers for a special meeting in Beijing as a way to boost its relationship with ASEAN.
As I have written before, the idea of hosting ASEAN defense ministers in Beijing was first formally unveiled as part of China’s strategy to advance its relationship with ASEAN under the “2 + 7 cooperation framework” back in October 2013 (See: “Beijing Reveals New Strategy for ASEAN-China Relations”). At the ASEAN-China Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting in Myanmar last year, China reiterated its desire for Southeast Asian defense ministers to come to Beijing, along with other proposed measures to deepen ASEAN-China defense and security cooperation such as strengthening defense policy and academic communications.
There is also little doubt that Beijing is seeking to emulate U.S. efforts in this regard. At the 2013 Shangri-La Dialogue, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel extended a public invitation to ASEAN defense ministers for an informal meeting in Hawaii, which was eventually held from April 1-3. It was the first time that ASEAN defense ministers had met in the United States. The China-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Special Meeting in Beijing in October 2015 would represent a similar first for Beijing.
During his remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Malaysia’s defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein highlighted China’s hosting of the meeting as evidence of how ASEAN’s growing network of meetings and institutions can help forge cooperation with neighboring countries and major powers. “This recognition bodes well for ASEAN as a platform in engaging the major powers in addressing some of the security challenges collectively and prevent any potential cause for friction,” Hishammuddin said.