SINGAPORE: The Shangri-La Dialogue, which had been scheduled to take place on Jun 4 and Jun 5 in Singapore, has been cancelled two weeks before the meeting.
This is due to the deterioration of the global COVID-19 situation, the organiser of the defence summit said in a statement on Thursday (May 20).
It is with regret and sadness that the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) must announce the cancellation of the 2021 Shangri-La Dialogue, it said.
"A wide range of defence ministers, senior officials, corporate leaders and influential strategists from Asia, North America, the Middle East and Europe have confirmed their attendance.
"The IISS has worked hard with the Government of Singapore, and in particular acted in close consultation with Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, to ensure a successful Dialogue this year, despite the challenges of the pandemic," said IISS.
IISS had said on Monday that the Shangri-La Dialogue “remains on track”, despite the cancellation of the World Economic Forum's Special Annual Meeting in Singapore about three months before it was scheduled to take place in August.
Even during COVID-19, IISS on Thursday said it believes in the role of "face-to-face diplomacy" to solve global problems.
"We continue to hold successful face-to-face events, including the IISS Manama Dialogue in Bahrain, which was convened in 2020, and will take place again on Nov 19 to Nov 21, 2021."
The global COVID-19 situation has recently deteriorated, in part because of the rise of infectious new variants, said IISS.
Singapore, which has seen a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the community, has also recently introduced new restrictions, it noted.
"The prospect of further tightening cannot be ruled out, all of which creates uncertainty," said IISS.
Taken together, those various factors mean that holding an in-person Shangri-La Dialogue this year is "unviable", it added.
The IISS said it remains committed to the Shangri-La Dialogue, which it had convened every year since 2002, until the pandemic halted its efforts.
The Institute added that its IISS–Asia office in Singapore will continue with a programme of research and events, while also beginning to plan the next IISS Fullerton Forum in January 2022, and the return of the full in-person IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in the middle of next year.
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The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said in a statement following the announcement that it supports IISS' decision to call off the summit.
"Although regretful, it is the responsible course, with the health and safety of the local community and participants as the foremost consideration," said MINDEF.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Thursday said that when invitations for the Shangri-La Dialogue were issued earlier this year, IISS and MINDEF were “quietly optimistic” that the control measures and mass vaccinations under way in many countries would allow for a physical meeting to be held in Singapore in June.
“Security challenges continue to confront us despite the pandemic and the face-to-face meetings were necessary for frank and deep conversations between Defence Ministers and other participants. Important initiatives and policies have resulted from past Shangri-La Dialogues that today contribute to peace and stability in our region and beyond,” he said in a Facebook post.
“We were heartened by the positive responses to our invitations, especially from (Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga) and many defence ministers. Their commitment to be here in Singapore physically reflected the strong desire to have meaningful dialogue to deal with pressing transnational security issues that confront us all. I am thankful to all of them for their strong show of support.”
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Unfortunately, Dr Ng said the COVID-19 pandemic “has not abated and indeed taken a turn for the worse”, especially in parts of Asia, aggravated by more infectious variants.
“The next few weeks will remain challenging and uncertain. It is therefore unfortunate that Shangri-La Dialogue 2021 will be cancelled. This decision was taken in close consultation with the Singapore Government. Although regretful, it is the responsible course, with the health and safety of the local community and participants as the foremost consideration,” he wrote.
Dr Ng said the cancellation of the Shangri-La Dialogue in no way reflects any reduced commitment to dialogue and engagement to promote peace and stability in Asia and beyond.
“Rather, it is yet another example of how COVID-19 has disrupted normalcy, in all facets of our lives and social discourse. We will find alternate and safer avenues for these important goals.”