BEIJING, June 4 (Bloomberg): China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu used a speech in Singapore to attack US strategy toward the Indo-Pacific, saying Washington is seeking to stoke confrontation through its support for Taiwan, military deployments and building alliances in the region.
And Li vowed that China would defend its interests - particularly over Taiwan, the biggest potential military flashpoint between the world’s biggest economies.
"We will never hesitate to defend our legitimate rights and interests, let alone sacrificing the nation’s core interests,” Li said Sunday. "As the lyrics of a well-known Chinese song goes, when friends visit us, we welcome them with fine wine. When jackals or wolves come we will face them with shotguns.”
Li’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue highlighted how US-China tensions have dominated the annual defense forum, with the discussions in Singapore taking place against a backdrop of US and Canadian ships sailing through the Taiwan Strait and Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine.
President Xi Jinping’s government has repeatedly charged the US with using its military alliances, trade policy and the threat of sanctions to bully smaller nations and try to keep China down. The US and many allies say they want to "de-risk” and not "decouple” from China over national security concerns. And Austin repeatedly criticized China for not allowing senior military-to-military talks to resume.
Pressed on what the US called "unprofessional” and dangerous conduct toward the ship transit in the Taiwan Strait, Li pushed back, saying the vessels weren’t there "for innocent passage, they’re here for provocation.”
On Taiwan, Li said China’s position was clear: "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. The Chinese government and the Chinese military will never tolerate any incident that could lead to a divided China.”
Shahriman Lockman, a senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic & International Studies, said Li may not have won many converts at the forum but his message will be welcomed in some regional capitals.
"The portrayal of the US as a somewhat reckless superpower in comparison with China rings true to some,” Lockman said. "The repeated demand for China to be treated as an equal would strike many as reasonable.”
But China’s claims to be eager for peaceful partnership in the region were challenged by Tristan Tarriela, a Philippines coast guard officer who cited the frequent harassment of Filipino fishermen in historically national waters by Chinese vessels.
"So while China is talking dialog, China’s actions show confrontation,” Tarriela said. Li didn’t directly respond to the remarks.
The three-day conference had opened with Li and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries at a dinner on Friday. That may have been the high-water mark for the two nations, both of which quickly shifted to bolstering ties will allies and partners from other countries.
Li and other Chinese delegates held lengthy meetings over the weekend with representatives from Japan, Australia and even NATO, while the US delegation met those nations as well as other regional partners including the Philippines.
After largely criticizing Washington’s approach to the region without specifically identifying the US, Li ended his remarks with a slightly more optimistic tone, saying "the world is big enough for countries including China and the US to grow together.”
The US should "match its words with deeds and take concrete actions together with China to stabilize relations and prevent further deterioration,” Li said. "China and the US should properly handle differences, grave difficulties and find the right way to get along.”
But in a symbolic sign of how far the two sides remain apart, Li’s speech came as Austin was preparing to depart Singapore, heading for India. There he’ll work to bolster ties with a frequent rival of China and a key nation in the Quad bloc that is increasingly seen as a counterweight to Beijing in the Indo-Pacific. - Bloomberg