Singapore brings together American and Chinese ministers of defence at Shangri-La Dialogue 2024, amid global strife

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meets Chinese Defence Minister Admiral Dong Jun in Singapore
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meets Chinese Defence Minister Admiral Dong Jun on May 31 at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2024 hosted by Singapore. Photo courtesy: X/@SecDef

Shangri-La Dialogue 2024, this year’s edition of the annual defence summit of Asia, is being hosted by Singapore. This summit is particularly noteworthy, as it has brought together US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin and People’s Republic of China Minister of National Defence Admiral Dong Jun. The two countries have been at loggerheads over trade and geopolitical matters, including Taiwan.

The three-day summit started on May 31 and runs till June 2. Austin said in a post on X: “I met today with the PRC’s Minister of National Defense for the first time since November 2022. Admiral Dong and I discussed regional and global security issues, US-PRC defense relations, and the importance of open lines of military-to-military communication.”

The Pentagon press secretary has released a readout on the US-China ministerial meeting; and the Singapore Government has released a joint ministerial statement regarding the meeting of the defence ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Pentagon Press Secretary Major General Pat Ryder provided the readout that said: “[US] Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Admiral Dong Jun, Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), met today in Singapore on the margins of the Shangri-La Dialogue to discuss US-PRC defense relations, as well as regional and global security issues.

“Secretary Austin emphasized [on] the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC. Secretary Austin reaffirmed the announcement by President Biden and PRC President Xi Jinping in November 2023 that both sides will resume telephone conversations between theater commanders in the coming months, and the Secretary welcomed plans to convene a crisis-communications working group by the end of the year.”

Taiwan was discussed between the two defence ministers. The Chinese military — formally named the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — recently carried out “punishment drills” around Taiwan, following the swearing-in of the new Taiwan President Lai Ching-te on May 20, 2024.

China had also reacted with a threat when former Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen transited through the United States in March-April 2024. Despite the aggression displayed by Beijing, the Taiwanese leader met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in early April.

Referring to these so-called punishment drills, the Pentagon readout said: “The [US] Secretary expressed concern about recent provocative PLA activity around the Taiwan Strait, and he reiterated that the PRC should not use Taiwan’s political transition — part of a normal, routine democratic process — as a pretext for coercive measures.”

The readout added: “The Secretary underscored that the United States remains committed to its longstanding one China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three US-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. He also reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

The South China Sea was up for discussion, too. The Pentagon readout said: “The Secretary made clear that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows. He underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was naturally part of the US-China talks in Singapore — Chinese leader Xi Jinping is a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and US President Joe Biden supports Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

On this subject, the Pentagon readout said: “[Secretary Austin] also discussed Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine and the PRC’s role in supporting Russia’s defense industrial base. The Secretary also expressed concerns about recent provocations from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), including its direct contributions to Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine.”

In conclusion, the Pentagon note said: “[The May 31] meeting follows the Secretary’s April 16 video teleconference call with the Admiral. Department officials will continue active discussions with their PRC counterparts about future engagements between defense and military officials at multiple levels.”

Singapore Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen with US Representative Michael McCaul
Singapore Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen meets a United States Congressional Delegation led by Representative Michael McCaul. Photo courtesy: X/@mindefsg

12th FDPA Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Singapore

The Singapore Government media release on the joint ministerial statement said: “The Defence Ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom met on 31 May 2024 for the 12th Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) Defence Ministers’ Meeting.

“The ministers reaffirmed their nations’ strong and continued commitment to the FPDA, and noted that the FPDA is a unique multilateral arrangement that, through its remit, has played a constructive role in enhancing regional peace and security.

“The ministers welcomed the FPDA’s progress and achievements, which have been steadily built up over 53 years since its founding in 1971. The ministers discussed developments in the regional security environment. They agreed that the FPDA has continued to build trust and interoperability among the militaries of member-nations, promote respect for international law, and contribute to peace and security in the region.”

Referring to joint defence exercises, the government release said: “The ministers commended the successful conduct of the recent Exercise Bersama Lima in October 2023, and Exercise Bersama Shield from April to May 2024. Noting that the scope and complexity of FPDA exercises have grown over the decades, the ministers discussed ways for the militaries to further enhance the professional value of exercises while retaining their emphasis on high-end conventional exercise serials.”

Moreover, the ministers launched the official website of the FPDA (, “in line with efforts to enhance the transparency of the FPDA and promote reassurance and greater awareness about the purpose, founding principles, and key activities of the FPDA”.