(Bloomberg) -- Defense officials from around the world arrived in Singapore Friday, with US-China tensions over Taiwan, chip curbs and the South China Sea at the top of the agenda.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, are among more than 600 military leaders, policy makers and analysts from 40 nations taking part in the annual Shangri-La Dialogue. The US says Beijing has already ruled out a meeting between the two military chiefs, with China frustrated the Biden administration hasn’t removed sanctions the US placed on Li in 2018, but the two met briefly at a dinner Friday. 

Austin and Li’s attendance comes after the US tried and failed for months to set up direct communication between the two sides. And it follows a surge in tensions dating back to February, when an alleged Chinese spy balloon floated through American airspace — an episode that only fueled anxieties in Asian nations worried about being caught in the middle of a potential conflict between their two most important partners. 

In his keynote speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue on Friday night, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese encouraged the US and China to maintain open lines of communication, saying war in the Asia-Pacific was not “preordained.”

Latest coverage

  • Fear of US-China Conflict Looms Over Singapore Defense Forum
  • China’s Close Plane Encounter Shows Need to Talk, Blinken Says
  • Singapore Says Aspects of US-China Rift ‘Appear Insurmountable’
  • US Hits Roadblock in Bid to Renew China Ties: Its Own Sanctions
  • China Woos Dimon, Musk Amid Pressure on Xi to Boost Economy

(All times local)

Albanese Says War Not ‘Pre-Ordained’ (9:02 p.m.)

Albanese called for the US and China to boost dialogue in his keynote address to the forum. He and warned that it was harmful to assume war between the two powers was “inevitable.”

“The fate of our region is not preordained. It never was and it never is,” he said.

US, China Defense Chiefs Shake Hands (8:08 p.m.)

Austin and Li briefly shook hands and exchanged words before Albanese’s speech. They were seated at the same table for the event. 

A senior US defense official said the handshake was good, but no substitute for sitting down and having a meaningful exchange. Their next meeting should be a serious and substantive dialogue, the official said. 

China, Japan defense chiefs set to meet: Nikkei (7:03 p.m.)

Li planned to hold a meeting with Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada on the sidelines of the forum, Nikkei reports citing an announcement from Tokyo. Hamada will reportedly raise the issue of Beijing’s maritime activity in the East China Sea.

Japan is also slated to participate in trilateral talks with the US and South Korea and another with the US and Australia.

DNI Chief Says Stopping All Hacks Impossible (5:42 p.m.)

Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence, says preventing all cyber attacks is essentially impossible and would “really take almost our entire budget to do.” 

“We are not going to be able to defend against every possible attack in cyber,” Haines said during a panel discussion. “We have to actually design our systems in a way that mitigates essentially the risk of what damage can be done” and “ultimately create greater resilience and defend against them,” she added. 

Austin Meets Southeast Asian Defense Chiefs (5:16 p.m.)

Austin met with Southeast Asian defense ministers on the sidelines of the forum, according to a readout from Singapore’s Ministry of Defense. During the informal gathering, the Pentagon chief said Washington would continue to enhance defense cooperation in the region and spoke about sustaining a rules-based regional security environment.

US Sees Japan Taking Bigger Role in Defense Alliance (4:30 p.m.)

The US sees its security ties with Japan becoming more equal going forward, with its Asian ally taking a bigger role not only in defense but also in projecting power, according to a senior US defense official. Japan’s plan to purchase hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles that will enable it to mount a counterstrike against attacks is part of that posturing, the official said. 

Asked whether Japan could use the missiles without US permission, the official said the weapons were important for Japan’s defense but that the US will continue to view them as an alliance capability. 

Former Taiwan Defense Minister to Attend Forum (3:40 p.m.)

Two of Taiwan’s former government officials are expected to attend the forum. Andrew Yang, former minister of national defense and Lai I-chung, president of the Prospect Foundation are guests at the event, according to a person familiar with the matter.

China, Philippines Had ‘Very Good’ Discussions (3:30 p.m.)

Li described his talks with Philippines Defense Minister Carlito Galvez as “very good.” The Chinese defense chief spoke with reporters after the bilateral meeting with his Philippine counterpart. Discussions between the officials are taking place against the backdrop of heightened tensions over disputed waters.

US-China Tensions Quickly Emerge (1:30 p.m.)

A joint press conference with Australia’s Albanese and Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong focused immediately on the refusal by China for Austin and Li to meet, and what tensions between those nations signaled for the region. 

“No one wants to be in a position where we have to either contain China’s rise or limit America’s presence,” Wong said. “No one in Asean wants to see a new Cold War.” 

Albanese said he was glad both the US and China were taking part in the forum, and he praised the tightening security relationship with Singapore.

“We know security isn’t just about defense. it’s about our capacity to be less vulnerable to shocks,” Albanese said. He promised to provide Australia’s vision for a “stable and secure” Indo-Pacific during his keynote speech later on Friday. 

Decoupling Will Be ‘Disaster,’ Organizer Says (10:32 a.m.)

There’s more at stake in this summit than just the opening of military-to-military lines of communication key to avoiding a potential conflict down the road. The rest of Asia is looking to see whether the US and China can still coexist in an increasingly complex and multipolar global economy.

“The big question for those who are interested in the political economy of the region is where does ‘de-risking’ sit on the spectrum,” said John Chipman, director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which is organizing the forum. “We know that business-as-normal on one side is not going to be possible. We know on the other side that full decoupling will be a disaster.”

China Will ‘Never’ Renounce Using Force on Taiwan (8:37 a.m.)

China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu told his Singaporean counterpart on Thursday that China “will never promise to renounce the use of force” in pursuing unification with Taiwan, echoing lines from President Xi Jinping’s speech during a twice-a-decade party conclave in October. 

Li also said that China “will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and greatest efforts, but we will never allow any attempt by the Democratic Progressive Party authorities to seek foreign support for Taiwanese independence, nor will we allow external forces to use Taiwan to contain China,” state media reported Friday, referring to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling party.

--With assistance from Alfred Cang, Peter Martin, Rebecca Choong Wilkins, Xiao Zibang, Isabel Reynolds, Jamie Tarabay and Ben Westcott.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.