Asian Nations unite against giant China fear
Several Asian nations are seeking to bolster informal alliances among themselves, regional diplomats and officials said, unsettled by growing fears that the United States could not be relied on to maintain a buffer against China's assertiveness.
Countries including Australia, Japan, India and Vietnam are quietly stepping up discussions and co-operation, although taking care they do not upset Beijing, the diplomats said. No one was yet talking about a formal alliance.
Inaugurating the weekend Shangri-La Dialogue, the region's premier security forum, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "In this brave new world we cannot rely on great powers to safeguard our interests.
"We have to take responsibility for our own security and prosperity, while recognizing we are stronger when sharing the burden of collective leadership with trusted partners and friends."
His comments resonated through the three-day meeting that ended on Sunday.
Regional officials and analysts said there was growing mistrust of the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, especially because of his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on trade and then, last week, the pullout from the Paris climate accord.
Many fear Trump is signaling a deeper retreat from a traditional U.S. security role that has underpinned the region for decades.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told the Singapore forum that Washington remained committed to the region and insisted it would oppose China's militarization of the disputed South China Sea, one of Asia's most volatile hotspots.
Regional officials said they were worried by Trump's unpredictability and concerned that his warm praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping after their first summit meeting in April would influence any decisions on Asia.
"We trust Mattis and we trust (U.S. Pacific Commander Harry) Harris but at the very top? The trust gap is very wide," said one senior Asian military officer.