Saturday, March 28, 2020

International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue: Asia Security Summit will not convene in 2020

The 2020 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) would be untenable as no one can say how long countries will close their borders in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. Even if delegates can get to Singapore when airline flights have dried up - some military delegations have flown to Singapore using their own aircraft in the past - defence ministers and armed forces chiefs are likely to be heavily engaged in their home nation's efforts to fight the virus. Defence chiefs many not be able to spare a weekend in Singapore, bearing in mind the travel time and the expected quarantine period upon returning home. 

One should also remember that the defence relations aspect of SLD would be jeopardised during this period of social distancing. Event highlights such as the lunch for defence ministers traditionally hosted by Singapore, numerous courtesy calls between ministers and armed forces chiefs, and the close mingling between delegates cannot take place as before. As the absence of such activities would dilute the value of the security talks, it is understandable and prudent for the event to be postponed. 

The Home Team and SAF deploy a lot of manpower and assets to protect the event round the clock. Postponing the event would allow the Home Team and SAF to give their fullest attention and support to Singapore's pandemic response efforts.

Tensions in hotspots like the South China Sea, sea piracy and the threat of terrorism have not gone away even as COVID-19 ravages countries worldwide. 

As governments worldwide focus their attention on the pandemic, it is essential that defence diplomacy engagements continue to allow differing points of view to be aired. It is important for Track Two efforts such as the SLD to stay active, perhaps by video conference or online workshops on topical security issues, to keep potential flashpoints in check.

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19th Shangri-La Dialogue,  scheduled for June, called off due to coronavirus outbreak, Straits Times, 28 March 2020. Click here

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