China kick-starts Xiangshan security forum in absence of defence minister

Beijing Xiangshan Forum, China’s hugest yearly show of military diplomacy, began on Sunday, although the Asian power is still missing a defence minister, who particularly hosts this occassion. China wishes to utilise the forum to promote President Xi Jinping’s vision for a secured world and draw developing nations closer, as it encounters raised coordination between the United States and its allies to curtail its military ambitions.

Russia, which began a war in Ukraine in 2022, is being given centre stage at the forum. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is listed in the forum’s agenda as the first guest speaker at Monday’s opening ceremony. The US Defence Department has sent a delegation led by China country director in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defence, Ms Xanthi Carras. The forum in 2023 takes place at a weird time for China when it is without a defence minister, whose sole work is to involve and converse with foreign militaries.

On Tuesday, Beijing sacked its defence minister Li Shangfu, but made the decision of not naming a replacement.  Reuters reported in September that Mr Li, who has been not found for two months, was investigated for corruption. State media reported that General Zhang Youxia and General He Weidong, ranked number two and three in the military, separately held bilateral meetings with defence ministers from Laos, Mongolia and Vietnam on Saturday. State news agency Xinhua reported that the number and level of foreign participants, which includes 22 defence ministers and 14 military chiefs, are the highest this year since the forum was first held in 2006.

Specifically, China is directing its focus on its outreach to the global south. Mr Zhao Yufei, an official with the event organiser, said the forum will call on developing nations to be in opposition to bloc confrontation and a “Cold War mentality”, which are two frequent criticisms Beijing have of the West. Two defence diplomats whose nations have sent ministers told Reuters the forum provides a special chance to engage with senior Chinese defence officials and military governers to create trust, which would be handy in moments of crisis.