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GS Director Krista Wiegand Participates in Indo-Pacific Security Dialogues
Indo-Pacific Security Dialogues
When the Baker Center’s Krista Wiegand talks about Indo-Pacific security issues, government and military officials across the globe listen.
Wiegand, the director of the Global Security Program at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, participated in three Pacific Forum international security dialogues in 2022: U.S.-Vietnam; U.S. – Indonesia; and U.S. – Japan – Philippines.
These security dialogues are highly exclusive, bringing in a mix of retired government, military, and diplomatic officials as well as researchers from universities and think tanks to provide nonpartisan assessment of security threats.
But they’re not the only personnel in the room full of tension.
Sitting on the outskirts of the room, observing and taking notes, are current government and military officials from the participating countries. They don’t take part in the Track II dialogues, but are the officials who go back to their agencies to report on what took place and what was said.
The discussions and simulations that take place at the security dialogues can generate operational and actionable recommendations because government and military officials hear expert views regarding the specific simulations under discussion. The advantage of these forums is the scholars or retired officials participating in the dialogues don’t need to adhere to any official government policy positions. They offer perspective based upon their experience and research.
Wiegand attended these invitation-only dialogues as a subject matter expert about the U.S. perspective, not representing or being paid by the U.S. government. She was there to speak about what her 20 years of experience researching territorial and maritime disputes have taught her.
The Discussion: National Security Strategy Around China
Any Indo-Pacific security dialogue has to discuss the elephant in the room – China. What these dialogues seek to answer are how reliable are U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and what role will these countries will play in a conflict between the U.S. and China.
Panels cover security themes with one participant presenting a response and giving recommendations, followed by discussions between participating countries. Wiegand was the discussion lead for the panel From Maritime Militia to White Hulls – Responding to Gray-zone Challenges, at the U.S. – Japan – Philippines security dialogue. She gave her assessment of current Chinese coercions in the South China Sea and actionable recommendations for the U.S., the Philippines, and Japan on how to effectively counter Chinese coercions in the maritime domain.
Even if these discussions and simulations consider hypothetical actions by China, the scenarios are realistic. Most of the countries involved were direct in their recommendations and responses; however, there are still gray areas because the questions are more complex than determining basic support. And sometimes, it is what isn’t being said that is more informative than what is.
The Outcomes: More Work to be Done in the Indo-Pacific
When it came to the dialogues with Vietnam and Indonesia, what came out of the talks might not have been necessarily agreeable for the U.S., but still productive. While previous government assessments indicated optimism that both countries would be more likely to side with the U.S. in a standoff with China, the experts and government observers learned that Vietnam and Indonesia are hedging with both the U.S. and China. These security dialogues provided a more realistic assessment of the U.S.’s partnership with Vietnam and Indonesia, showing that more diplomacy is needed.
The U.S. participants in all three security dialogues had similar viewpoints on the U.S.-China rivalry, the disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and the importance of the alliances and partnerships of countries in the Indo-Pacific region and the U.S. They worked to make their points stronger and justify what they were trying to recommend at the talks. The dialogues confirmed that U.S. allies by treaties, Japan and the Philippines, shared the same viewpoints as the U.S., while work is needed for partnerships with Vietnam and Indonesia
In November 2022 Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to signal U.S. support and to meet their new president, who was ambiguous about supporting the U.S. or China. Ten days later, the U.S.-Japan-Philippines Security Dialogue took place. During those discussions, U.S. participants stated that it would be beneficial if the U.S. could strengthen military relations with the Philippines. As an example of the potential impact of security dialogues, within months, the U.S. and Philippine governments announced that four new bases would be built in the Philippines and that the U.S. will have access to them. Most recently, in mid-April 2023, the two governments announced joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, a specific recommendation discussed in the U.S.-Japan-Philippines Security Dialogue.