Photo of Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull and China Lt Gen He Lei from Reuters

In light of strained diplomatic relationships between Singapore and China, speculations are rife that China has again given Singapore a cold shoulder by sending a lower-ranked representation instead of the usual Admiral to the international military forum where Singapore is hosting.

For this year’s international military forum held at Singapore’s Shangri-La Hotel, China sent the lowest-ranked representative in 4 years – Lieutenant General He Lei, the vice-president of the PLA Academy of Military Science. China will not be giving keynote speech either, as his rank is too low to make any official statements on China’s behalf. More notably, the Lt. Gen does not hold any official position in government. According to the forum agenda, Lt. Gen He Lei will only participate in an open session on security cooperation. An unnamed Chinese military source told China state media South China Morning Post (SCMP):

“He can’t make a main speech like Sun because of his lower rank compared with Sun. The organisers have a rule that delegates making a speech at the plenary sessions should be at least deputy heads of a top military decision-making body, such as Admiral Sun.”

SCMP also confirmed with multiple Chinese sources that the Chinese military is currently “busy” and that they could only afford the Lt. Gen to represent the world’s biggest country.

However, contrast to China, the United States’s highest ranking in defence, Defence Secretary James Mattis and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull both turned up for the forum in Singapore. Defence ministers, chiefs of defence forces, senior officials and academics from 39 countries are also at the Shangri-La Dialogue, where North Korea is one of the headline topics at the forum.