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In secret meeting, two dozen world’s spy chiefs gather in Singapore: Report

US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (C) attends the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, June 2, 2023. (File photo by Reuters)

About two dozen of senior officials from the world’s intelligence agencies gathered in secret in Singapore this weekend concurrent with the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, according to a report.

Five unnamed sources familiar with the matter told Reuters such meetings between the spy chiefs are regularly held at a separate venue alongside the security summit for several years, but not previously reported.

Representatives from the United States, India, China, and several other countries from the Asia-Pacific region attended the meeting, the report added.

US head of national intelligence Avril Haines, Samant Goel -- the head of India’s overseas intelligence gathering agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) -- and a representative from China attended the meeting, it said.

“The meeting is an important fixture on the international shadow agenda,” one person with knowledge of the discussions said, adding the meeting can promote “a deeper understating of intentions and bottom lines.”

“There is an unspoken code among intelligence services that they can talk when more formal and open diplomacy is harder - it is a very important factor during times of tension, and the Singapore event helps promote that.”

Another of the sources said the tone at the meeting was collaborative and cooperative, and not confrontational.

A spokesperson for the Singapore Ministry of Defence said that the ministry “facilitates” meetings between spy chiefs during Shangri-La Dialogue.

“Participants have found such meetings held on the sidelines of the (dialogue) beneficial,” the spokesperson said.

However, the US Embassy in Singapore cast doubts about the report, saying it had no information on the meeting while the Chinese and Indian sides did not immediately respond to Reuter’s requests for comments on the matter.

Despite the reported presence of Chinese and US representatives in the secret conclave, China has rejected a request by the United States for a meeting between the two countries’ defense chiefs during the summit, as tensions continue to rise between Beijing and Washington in the face of persisting US “provocations.”

Nonetheless, the US seeks dialogue with China with Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin describing the dialogue between the two countries as “essential.”

“The United States believes that open lines of communication with the People’s Republic of China are essential -- especially between our defense and military leaders,” Austin said at the Shangri-La summit on Saturday.

China’s senior colonel Zhao Xiaozhou said Beijing also believed the lines of communication were necessary, but “the problem is for the United States to stop provoking China’s security.”

On Friday, a US and a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait, in a rare joint mission in the sensitive waterway at a time of heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over Chinese-claimed Taiwan.

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu told Asia’s top security summit on Sunday that conflict with the United States would be an “unbearable disaster” for the world.

In his speech, Li said China would not allow such freedom-of-navigation patrols by the United States and its allies to be “a pretext to exercise hegemony of navigation.”

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