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IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2017 Opening Remarks
Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS

Dr John Chipman, Director-General and Chief Executive, IISS

As Prepared

Welcome to the 16th Asia Security Summit, the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. We are delighted to have again assembled such a large gathering of ministers, military chiefs, intelligence heads, national security professionals, as well as defence industry leaders and independent strategists to advance defence diplomacy.

At this Shangri-La Dialogue, we already know, more bilateral, minilateral and multilateral meetings, in more diverse forms, are scheduled than ever before.

At the outset, I should like to thank the owners and management of the Shangri-La Hotel Group for generously sponsoring this Opening Dinner, our Lead Sponsors, Airbus Group, BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, for their support, and the government of Singapore for the assistance that permits us independently to organize the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue process, a responsibility we take very seriously.

I say ‘process’, rather than summit, because though this is a 3 day event, it is a 365 day a year effort. The IISS is in regular and constant touch with all the participating countries, speaking directly to ministers, officials, military officers, speech writers, analysts and others to shape the agenda and to ensure that each and every government is as content as possible with the shape of the Dialogue and their specific role within it. We thank all of you for the communications we have had with you and for the efforts that you have made to be here, to lead the discussions, meet each other and strengthen your relationships.

This year has seen the most extraordinary intensification of international and domestic political activity. Indeed, domestic agendas are heavily charged this year, keeping a few leaders busy at home. This weekend is the last before a general election in the UK, where the defence secretary is busy campaigning. In Germany too, the defence minister is engaged in electoral matters at the state level. In India, the finance minister, who also has additional duties as defence minister, is greatly occupied with the introduction of major tax reform that will be unveiled in 30 days.

In China, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) is in the middle of the most intense and wide-ranging military reform process in its long history. I had excellent meetings with senior Chinese officers in April and again in May on the sidelines of the successful Belt and Road conference hosted in Beijing to which IISS was invited. I want to thank the PLA for their discussions with me. They explained, first, that they accepted the IISS position that only individuals of full ministerial rank should speak in plenary at the SLD; second, that as this year the military reform process was occupying their leading Central Military Commission members, they could not field someone at that level to the 2017 Dialogue; third, that the Chinese delegation this year would therefore express itself formally in the special sessions as well as during Q and A in plenary; and fourth, that they fully intend in 2018 to send to the SLD a delegation led by a four star officer of CMC rank. I want to thank the PLA for their commitment to the Shangri-La Dialogue and, from this hall, especially as there are a number of PLA officers present here, send our congratulations on the 90th anniversary of the PLA that will be celebrated this August.

The type of international defence diplomacy conducted by all of you here, and also at our IISS Manama Dialogue, is perhaps even harder than traditional foreign affairs diplomacy. It has fewer conventions, and it carries even greater risks of misunderstanding, with either the ‘defence’ or the ‘diplomacy’ component being given too much weight by foreign opposite numbers or by the domestic political base of the practitioner. Keeping defence and diplomacy in the right balance is the essence of sound strategy.

Good strategy -- I always tell the staff at the IISS -- is conducted with a cool head and a warm heart; the other way around can lead to unfortunate results. Sound strategy, and effective defence diplomacy, also requires accurate facts and analysis. That is why we produce as part of the intellectual underpinning of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the Asia Pacific Regional Security Assessment. The 2017 book has analyses on the US, China, and India amongst others, but I would point you in particular to the chapters on ‘The trajectory and implications of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development’; ‘Managing the Asia-Pacific Nuclear Dynamics; ‘Military Cyber capabilities in the Asia Pacific’; and ‘Responding to intensifying security threats in the Sulu Zone’; issues that are all likely to form part of the debate here. This year, we are also launching The Military Balance Plus, our extraordinary relational electronic data base of military information that will be an essential tool for defence ministries and industry around the world. Many of you I hope will receive a demonstration of its analytical power over this weekend.

The launch of the Shangri-La Dialogue on Friday evening is always marked by a major speech by a head of government, and we are delighted that this tradition is continued tonight. Malcolm Turnbull earned a law degree at Sydney University, won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, and later worked as a journalist for both Australian and British media. He ran his own investment banking firm that founded a number of businesses, and then entered politics in 2004, winning election as Prime Minister in 2015 and then again in 2016.

Australia shares with others in this region the interesting characteristic of having its most significant economic relationship with China and its most important strategic relationship with the US. The country has an unavoidable, long-term interest in Asian security, and like other regional states faces the changing distribution of power with ambivalent sentiment: it has brought increased prosperity but has engendered a sense of insecurity. The views of the prime minister on regional security are eagerly sought by his peers, not just because of Australia’s geopolitical position but because of the experiences he has gained and the attachment to vigourous intellectual debate that he has championed. In fact at the end of a celebrated legal case he once handled he said this:

‘The fact of the matter is that nothing is achieved in this world, particularly politically, other than with persistence, and persistence involves repetition and it involves argument and re-argument... The public interest in free speech is not just in truthful speech, in correct speech, in fair speech... The interest is in the debate.’

I think that there are many reasons for those words to carry resonance today. Certainly this Shangri-La Dialogue has always celebrated transparent and open debate as the basis for more effective defence diplomatic understandings.

And so the IISS, the Republic of Singapore and the 2017 Shangri-La Dialogue look forward to your remarks today: The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, the floor is yours. 

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IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2018

The 17th Asia Security Summit will be held in Singapore on 1–3 June 2018.