Highlights from the 2024 Shangri-La Dialogue

From May 31 to June 2, Singapore became the epicenter of global security discussions as world leaders converged for the prestigious Shangri-La Dialogue, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Renowned as one of the foremost forums for international discourse on global security, the Dialogue primarily focused on the pressing issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The event was marked by dynamic panel discussions addressing various security challenges, alongside compelling speeches from prominent figures like U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun. Below, you will find highlights from select sessions that hold particular relevance for BENS.


  • Because “the United States can be secure only if Asia is secure”, it is deeply committed to the Indo-Pacific region and is thus investing significantly in strengthening its network of alliances and partnerships based on shared principles.
  • A key theme repeated by Sec. Austin in his remarks and during the Q&A is the notion of an emerging "convergence" among many like-minded Indo-Pacific nations around actions and structures to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific that follows the rules-based order. While the United States is not looking to emulate NATO in the region, it has pursued initiatives to strengthen relations with allies and partners around those principles, and those steps have built momentum over the past three years.
  • Austin also stressed that the United States needs to take a whole-of-government approach to strengthening relationships and initiatives such as the Quad, military and security cooperation are only one of many tools needed to address regional challenges.
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  • Admiral Dong Jun spoke on the Asia-Pacific's history of independence, self-reliance, and rejection of hegemonism and power politics. Dong laid out China’s defense policy values, especially China’s dedication to treating Taiwan as an internal matter. Dong claimed attempts at independence would only result in “self-destruction” and that prospects for peaceful reunification were “increasingly being eroded.”
  • Dong proposed six ways to improve the Asia-Pacific security framework: 1) Protect the legitimate security interests of all countries; 2) Build a more just and equitable international order; 3) Give full play to regional security architecture, such as ASEAN; 4) Advance open and substantive defense cooperation, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation; 5) Advance open and substantive defense cooperation; and 6) Strengthen security governance in emerging areas.
  • Dong also asserted that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea had not been compromised and, without naming names, argued that U.S. freedom of navigation operations violated national sovereignty. He accused the Philippines of unilaterally reneging on agreements and creating a "false scenario" to blackmail China regarding the Second Thomas Shoal.
  • Despite China’s nuclear buildup in recent years, Dong said China’s nuclear policy of “no first use under any circumstances,” remains unchanged, and he repeated the P5 statement that “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.”


  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy highlighted the failures of diplomacy in preventing Russia's invasion of Ukraine and proposed restoring effective diplomacy through the Global Peace Summit. He emphasized the Summit’s aims to address nuclear security, food security, and the release of prisoners of war and abducted Ukrainian children and invited global participation to help resolve the war and safeguard the world from such conflicts.
  • Singapore's Minister of Defense Dr. Ng Eng Hen reaffirmed Singapore's support for Ukraine and the rules-based international order. He also emphasized the importance of avoiding military conflict in Asia while calling for more dialogue and initiatives between the United States and China to prevent miscalculations and escalations in the South China Sea.
    • Malaysian Defense Minister Dato’ Seri Mohamed Khaled bin Nordin advocated for constructive dialogues and comprehensive cooperation across various domains.
  • During the Q&A, President Zelenskyy accused China of helping Russia to disrupt the upcoming Global Peace Summit and emphasized the need for international unity and diplomatic pressure on Russia. Questions were also raised about potential challenges from a second Trump administration and emerging security threats within ASEAN.

DETERRENCE AND REASSURANCE IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC – United States, China, France, the Netherlands

  • Dutch Minister of Defense Kajsa Ollongren advocated for increased international cooperation and dialogue to maintain deterrence and reassurance amidst growing tensions.
  • INDOPACOM Commander Admiral Samuel Paparo and French Vice Chief of the Defense Staff Admiral Pierre Vandier both discussed how deterrence and assurance are vital to modern military strategy, emphasizing their synergistic relationship in preventing conflict, maintaining stability, and fostering cooperation among allies and partners.
  • Former Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai argued that countries need to perceive each other as potential partners working towards common goals, rather than as rivals engaged in zero-sum competition. He defended China’s military actions in the region as only being concerned with China’s territory.
  • The Q&A highlighted the divergence between China and the United States and its allies on the panel. While the allies stressed the importance of deterrence and reassurance in preventing conflict, China said such discussions of defense cooperation were an “open threat,’ and stressed using regional fora such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to address security challenges.


  • General Tea Seiha, Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, emphasized the importance of multilateralism, in particular ASEAN-centered regionalism, and highlights its contributions to ASEAN initiatives and UN peacekeeping operations.
  • Josep Borrell Fontelles, representing the EU, stresses the significance of Indo-Pacific security for Europe and highlights the EU's role in regional security through cooperative partnerships in the region.
  • Richard Marles, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, discusses the global rules-based order and how the world is better off with it. Indo-Pacific nations have been crucial to this order’s formation and created an interdependent network of global supply chains. That has fostered great wealth creation and Indo-Pacific nations must continue to respect the sovereign rights of their neighbors and obligations from international law.


  • Lithuania's PM Ingrida Šimonytė underscored small states' role in supporting the rules-based order, reaffirmed support for Ukraine, highlighted Lithuania's defense, and cyber contributions, and called for enhanced Indo-Pacific cooperation.
  • Qatar's Deputy PM and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Al-Attiyah spoke on Qatar’s prioritizing human capital development, upholding international law, advocating for dialogue in conflict resolution, and bolstering effective communication for collective security and prosperity.
  • Japan's Defense Minister Kihara stressed addressing regional challenges, enhancing defense ties, deterring the unilateral use of force, and maintaining a free, open Indo-Pacific based on rule of law.

AI, CYBER DEFENCE AND FUTURE WARFARE – United States, Pakistan, NATO, Red Cross

  • The integration of AI and Cyber technologies presents transformative potential benefits and risks to national security and international relations.
  • The introduction of AI into the national security and warfare calculations was noted as a reason the rules based international world order must be upheld, as the risk remains that without it these technologies can become unrestricted on the battlefield. The regulation of AI and cyber technologies in warfare should be regulated through the already established intuitions that uphold international law.
  • There was support for the call by the UN Secretary General for states to urgently negotiate and conclude by 2026 a treaty regulating autonomous weapons systems.


  • Small state security policies hinge on the delicate balance between defense cooperation and strategic autonomy, shaped by factors like geographical location, regional alliances, and threats from neighboring powers.
  • In the discussion during the Q&A the Indo-Pacific, small states are advised to enhance both conventional and hybrid security capabilities, given the escalating competition between an assertive China and the United States. Estonia and Finland stressed that, while there are differences between Europe and Asia, a common factor in addressing regional security is determining whether a state is aggressively undermining the stability of its neighbors, pointing to Russia in the case of Europe.

MARITIME LAW ENFORCEMENT AND CONFIDENCE BUILDING – United States, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam

  • Differing legal foundations and the vast territorial scope of maritime activities challenge maritime law enforcement’s ability to address security issues like transnational crime and anti-terrorism, illegal fishing, and territorial disputes. Effective maritime law enforcement hinges upon solid international cooperation mechanisms such as the ASEAN Coast Guard Forum and other trust-building efforts, like establishing a code for unplanned encounters among regional coast guards or facilitating direct talks between them.
  • U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan stressed the principles that should guide “professional” Coast Guard activities: restraint, proportionality, and clear, unambiguous rules of engagement, responding to concerns about China’s Coast Guard actions.


  • Panelists emphasized the need for multilateral cooperation in areas like counterterrorism, maritime security, and combating other illegal activities. Such cooperation required upholding the rules-based international order, as established by the United Nations.
  • Reviving arms control efforts and avoiding double standards in applying international norms were highlighted as important measures for crisis management amid rising geopolitical competition.

Prepared by: Tristen Boga-Torres, Michelle Fan, Kyle Peterson, Tyler Risberg and Henri Roeer
Photos: AP Photo/Vincent Thian