Security Brief

U.S. and China Defense Chiefs to Meet in Singapore

The tete-a-tete on the sidelines of Asia’s leading security summit comes as Washington and Beijing clash on issues from cybersecurity to trade.

Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe speaks during the second round of U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue on November 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Diao Haiyang/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe speaks during the second round of U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue on November 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Diao Haiyang/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

What’s on tap today: U.S.-China relations are expected to dominate the headlines at Asia’s premier defense forum, Trump complains about the advice he’s getting from his national security adviser, and the U.S. State Department pushes to wean European allies off old Russian military equipment.

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Shangri-La Dialogue Kicks Off

It’s been eight years since China sent a high-ranking general to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, the leading Asia security forum that kicks off in Singapore on May 31. But this year, General Wei Fenghe, a State Councillor and China’s defense minister, is slated to make a much anticipated appearance as Beijing and Washington clash on issues from cybersecurity to trade.

Shanahan, General Wei to meet. U.S.-China relations will likely dominate the conversation at this year’s forum, which brings together defense ministers and military chiefs from 28 countries. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, on a longer Asia tour that includes stops in Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, is expected to meet with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the event, according to multiple news outlets. Other topics will likely include North Korean missile tests and cybersecurity.

U.S. to reveal new Asia strategy. Shanahan is expected to unveil details of the Pentagon’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, which is reportedly aimed at curbing Beijing’s growing clout in the region. The presentation will cap off a flurry of American diplomatic activity in the Pacific, including President Donald Trump’s own four-day trip to Japan.

The meeting comes at a time of tense relations between the world’s two largest economies, most notably an ongoing trade war that has sparked fears of a global meltdown. Shanahan told traveling press that he wants to keep military discussions with China—about disputed islands in the South China Sea and U.S. support for Taiwan—separate from trade talks.

Huawei on the brain. Adding to the tension is the Trump administration’s push to pressure partners into banning China telecommunications giant, Huawei, from 5G networks worldwide, warning that the technology poses a national security risk. The Chinese company hit back this week, filing a legal motion in U.S. federal court to have the Trump administration’s efforts to ban its equipment in the United States declared unconstitutional.

But what about Iran? The recent focus on the Pacific is part of the U.S. military’s shift in priority from counterterrorism to competition with China and Russia. But escalating tension with Iran in recent weeks threatens that focus, as the Pentagon warns about threats of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, writes Reuters. Shanahan said that the additional 900 U.S. troops headed to the region will go to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not Iraq.

Trump Undercuts Bolton

Rift brewing? Tension between Trump and John Bolton has spilled over into public in recent days, with the New York Times reporting that the president is complaining about the advice he is getting from his national security adviser.

Nowhere was this disconnect more apparent than during Trump’s visit to Japan, which ended Tuesday with the president contradicting Bolton on both Iran and North Korea. Trump declared that he was not seeking regime change in Tehran and that Pyongyang’s recent missile tests did not violate U.N. resolutions—both direct contradictions of Bolton’s previous statements.

Is Bolton out? If the national security adviser is worried about job security, he is not showing it. Rather than fly home with the president after the trip, Bolton flew directly to the United Arab Emirates, a move his allies interpreted as a sign of confidence in his relationship with Trump.

Laser-focused on Tehran. During the visit to the UAE, Bolton lost no time in blaming Iran for damage to oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman this month, although he provided no evidence to back up his claim. Tehran has denied involvement in the attacks.

What Were Watching

Out of sight, out of mind. Ahead of Trump’s visit to Japan, the White House reportedly asked the U.S. Navy to move the warship U.S.S. John McCain “out of sight” so the president would not see the warship that bears the name of the late senator. However, a spokesman for Shanahan said the acting secretary of defense was not aware of the request; Trump himself also denied the report on Twitter.

Upgrade your Soviet equipment here. The U.S. State Department launched a program to help allied and partner governments in Europe wean themselves off of Russian military equipment, Defense News reports. The effort aims to further squeeze Russia’s defense industry, and falls in line with the Trump administration’s overall priority to boost U.S. weapons sales abroad.

Russia’s very low-yield nukes. A new U.S. intelligence assessment says Russia may be secretly carrying out very low-yield nuclear tests to upgrade its nuclear arsenal, marking the first time Washington has accused Moscow of violating an international treaty banning nuclear tests, the Wall Street Journal reports. The news comes as the Cold War-era arms-control framework constraining military competition between the two countries has already begun to crack.

U.S. may suspend Turkish F-35 training. The United States is seriously considering suspending training for Turkish pilots on F-35 fighter jets as Ankara moves ahead with plans to purchase a Russian missile defense system, according to Reuters.

Still steaming. Trump can’t let go of his obsession with steam power, once again slamming the U.S. Navy for switching to an electromagnetic system to launch jets from  aircraft carriers. He vowed to order the Navy to return to the old steam-powered catapult, a move that could set up a battle with Congress, Politico writes. Trump’s latest comments came during a visit to the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship that does not use a catapult to launch planes. 

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EU Election Fallout

Europe votes. The world’s second biggest exercise in democracy (after India’s elections) took place in Europe over the weekend, where over 400 million people voted in elections for the European Union’s parliament. Robbie Gramer covered the elections from Germany and Belgium, where Europe’s biggest centrist parties saw big losses to smaller upstart parties on the far left, far right and everything in between.

What’s next? Now that the elections are over, European leaders are squabbling over who should fill top jobs in the European Union, which is already starting to stoke tensions between national leaders and parliamentary blocs—an inauspicious start for a more politically fractured European Union.

Tech & Cyber

DHS sounds alarm on Chinese drones. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is warning companies of the security risks of using commercial drones manufactured in China, which account for nearly 80 percent of the market. An alert sent out this month warns of terrorism, data stealing, invasion of privacy, and more.

Can new battlefield tech save lives? The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency is looking for new technological solutions to help directly minimize civilian casualties, reports. The agency is asking industry for input on new technologies including “unclassified software and other tools that assist with targeting and collateral damage estimates for military operations.”

Huawei open to ‘risk mitigation.’ Andy Purdy, the chief security officer at Huawei USA, signaled Wednesday that the Chinese telecom giant may be open to taking steps to address U.S. national security concerns. But he said U.S. officials have not been “willing to talk” with the company.


How ISIS still threatens Iraq. The Islamic State appears to be rebuilding in Iraq—or trying to, Pesha Magid writes in a dispatch for Foreign Policy. Since the fall of Baghouz, the last Islamic State stronghold in Syria, in March, at least a thousand militants are suspected to have crossed into Iraq. And Iraqi security forces, which remain internally divided, are struggling to fight back.

Quote of the Week

 “They are just not comparable.”

Patrick Shanahan, dismissing comparisons between the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and current tensions with Iran.

That’s it for today. For more from FP, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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