The Latest on Southeast Asia: ASEAN at the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)’s 21st Shangri-La Dialogue took place in Singapore from May 31-June 2. The dialogue convened high-ranking government and defense officials from around the world to discuss pressing security challenges and solutions toward regional peace and stability. As with previous years, Southeast Asia played a notable role in the dialogue, with representatives from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam taking up speaking engagements. 

Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s opening keynote condemned China’s maritime aggression in the South China Sea, without naming the country. Marcos went as far as to say that if an incident in the South China Sea led to the deliberate killing of a Filipino citizen, it would be “close to an act of war.” The speech follows a year of increased tensions with China in the South China Sea. In response, the Marcos administration has strived to strengthen its alliance with the United States and its partnerships with both Asian and Western countries. Despite indirectly condemning China, Marcos also emphasized his intent to continue working with both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China towards an “effective and substantive code of conduct, one that is firmly moored in UNCLOS.” 

This year, the Shangri-La Dialogue featured a special session titled “Myanmar: Opportunities for Diplomacy Amid Different Visions for Peace.” Both Indonesia and Malaysia reaffirmed their commitment to ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus, with Malaysia emphasizing that “if the international community as a whole believes that ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus is the basis to resolve this conflict, their overall effort must reflect this, in both word and deed.” Another notable point of discussion was China’s involvement in Myanmar’s current political crisis. Igor Driesmans, the European Union’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, urged China’s efforts to be more sustainable, comprehensive, and inclusive, noting that “partial ceasefires might trigger more distrust in the future.”

Indonesia and Malaysia focused on voicing concerns over the conflict in Gaza. During a special address on the second day of the dialogue, Indonesian minister of defense and president-elect Prabowo Subianto described Israel’s new cease-fire proposal with Hamas as an important step. Prabowo restated Indonesia’s concerns over the conflict, confirming that although his country is not physically in the region, “what happens in Gaza affects the concern of the Indonesian people.” During the dialogue’s final session, Malaysian minister of defense Mohamed Khaled Nordin echoed Prabowo’s comments, emphasizing that his government supports any proposals that will achieve an immediate and permanent cease-fire. He concluded by encouraging the summit to invite a representative from Palestine to attend future dialogues. 

Lauren Mai is a Program Coordinator and Research Assistant for the Southeast Asia Program and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

For more political, economic, and security analysis on the region, check out our blog series, The Latest on Southeast Asia. To hear the latest news on the region and hear from Southeast Asia experts, listen and subscribe to the Southeast Asia Radio podcast on any streaming platform.

Lauren Mai
Program Coordinator and Research Assistant, Southeast Asia Program