For the region’s military officers, diplomats, weapons manufacturers and spies, there are few livelier places than the lobby of Singapore’s Shangri-La hotel around mid-year.
Here, beneath pillared ceilings and chandeliers, they gather for an annual informal bash - called the Shangri-La Dialogue - organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Retired Western and Asian intelligence figures spend the best part of three days loitering here; a civilian-suited Vietnamese military officer introduces himself to a U.S. naval counterpart while a cadre of Chinese PLA staff walk briskly past. A Laotian military representative practices his golf swing as a gaggle of barefoot teenagers pad past from the swimming pool, towelling themselves down and apparently oblivious to the swirl of strategic tension.
While the IISS scholars organized a variety of panels covering regional flashpoints and trends and diplomats arranged formal bilateral meetings for their defense ministers, the siderooms, bars and cafes are even busier as more discreet business is done and information traded.
Regional military attaches say the event is a legendary recruitment spot, as officers and diplomats are tapped by business or academia - and sometimes more shadowy enterprises. One delegate said Singapore’s status as a leading financial hub helps.
According to rumor, operatives from various friendly Western and Asian intelligence agencies hold a parallel gathering in another hotel, to exchange information. That has never been verified.
As well as the IISS, the sponsors of the Shangri-La Dialogue include major Western defense firms, including Boeing, Airbus, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon - in part a reflection of gradually rising regional defense budgets.
Here is a link to IISS's Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), which took place June 1-3 in Singapore. Here is a link to the agenda. Besides the ones mentioned above, other sponsors included Singapore Technologies Engineering, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the Asahi Shimbun.
Here is a bit more background of the Shangri-La Dialogue. Why is it so important? Here is a bit about how the event, which draws a huge security presence, impacts traffic.
Last year, there was quite a bit of tension after India pulled out of the SLD over an apparent snub from the organizers, precipitating the need for a team from IISS to visit India and smooth things over.
Here is a piece from The Telegraph entitled "Cambridge Spy Seminars Hit by Whispers of Russian Links as Three Intelligence Experts Resign," about the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar (CIS), an academic forum on the Western spy world.