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What to expect at Beijing security forum known as China’s answer to the Shangri-La Dialogue

China’s three-day annual high-level forum to discuss Asia-Pacific security and defence issues begins on Monday.

The theme of this year’s Xiangshan Forum, which is being held in Beijing, is “Build a new type of international relations through security dialogue and cooperation”.

Topics of discussion will include the role of militaries in global governance, responding to new security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region through cooperation, maritime security cooperation, and international terrorist threats and countermeasures.

Other forums of debate will include the latest developments in terrorism and creative approaches to cooperation and maritime crisis management and regional stability.

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The event, to be held at the Xiangshan Yihe Hotel, is sponsored by Chinese Academy of Military Science and the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy Chief Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Committee who represented China at the Shangri-La Dialogue, will make a welcome speech at the opening reception on Monday, while General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, chief of Maylasia Armed Force, will deliver the keynote speech.

The forum’s formal plenary section will start on Tuesday, with China’s deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin and Singapore’s representative Ong Ye Kung presenting their speeches discussing cooperation amid new security challenges in the Asia-Pacific.

We take a closer look at the background to the forum and what can be expected at this year’s event.

What is the Xiangshan Forum?

As a high-level platform to discuss Asian security and defence issues, the Xiangshan Forum was launched by the Chinese Academy of Military Science in 2006. It was initially held every two years but upgraded to an annual event in 2014.

The forum has included defence and military leaders, former senior government officials and military officers and experts from the Asia-Pacific region.

Is it similar to the Shangri-La Dialogue?

It is widely believed the Xiangshan Forum was designed to rival the Shangri-La Dialogue, an event launched in 2002 by British think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Singaporean government, and which gained its name from the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore where the meeting is held.

The Xiangshan Forum is regarded as a platform to voice China’s views on regional disputes while the Shangri-La Dialogue is seen by Chinese officials as a platform for other countries to criticise China.

In June 2014, Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, slammed Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, and Chuck Hagel, then US Secretary of Defence, in his speech on the closing day of the Shangri-La Dialogue for making provocative statements towards China in their speeches.

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Wang said the dialogue was to exchange views and the two’s groundless criticisms against China were unbelievable on such an occasion and that Abe’s speech was unacceptable.

China altered its forum to an annual basis the same year.

How open is the forum?

The Xiangshan Forum has sparked controversy as to how open and inclusive it is and many scholars have questioned if sensitive topics would be included on the agenda or how critical delegates would be allowed to be.

He Lei, secretary general of the 6th Xiangshan Forum and vice-director of Chinese Academy of Military Science, said in an interview that organisers would not limit the speech of the participants.

Although some delegates and scholars talked about the South China Sea and disputed islands in past years, whether the issue would be discussed this year is unknown as it is not specifically mentioned on the agenda.

What is expected this year?

More than 60 countries and organisations have confirmed they will send delegations, Chinese Senior Colonel Yang Yujun said at the Defence Ministry’s regular press conference on September 29.

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He said the forum this year would have increased participation by European, African and South Pacific countries. Delegate details were not yet available, an official later said.

Monday

The first day is for checking in and bilateral meetings between delegates. A Chinese leader of the Central Military Commission will deliver a keynote speech at the welcome dinner.

Tuesday

Four plenary sessions will be held on the second day, on the topics of “The Role of Militaries in Global Governance”, “Responding to New Security Challenges in the Asia-Pacific (Region) through Cooperation”, “Maritime Security Cooperation” and “International Terrorist Threats and Countermeasures”.

The Chinese minister of national defence will host a dinner in the evening.

Wednesday

The third day will feature two concurrent panels, both addressing the topics of “Major Power Relations and Global Strategic Structure”, “Globalisation vs Deglobalisation: Implications for International Security”, “Latest Developments in Terrorism and Creative Approaches to Cooperation” and “Maritime Crisis Management and Regional Stability”.