A US-China war would result in an “unbearable disaster” for the world, according to General Li Shangfu, China’s defence minister. He made the statement during his first major speech since taking office at a security summit. General Li noted that “some countries” were escalating an arms race in Asia, but he emphasised that the world is large enough for both China and the US and that they should seek common ground.
Recently, the US reported “unsafe” manoeuvres by a Chinese destroyer near a US warship in the Taiwan Strait. The US Navy claimed that a Chinese destroyer sailed “in an unsafe manner” close to an American warship, which was transiting the Taiwan Strait with Canadian vessels. China criticised both nations for “deliberately provoking risk,” while the US and Canada maintained they were sailing within the bounds of international law.
General Li, who became defence minister in March, accused the US of possessing a “Cold War mentality” and said this was “greatly increasing security risks.” In his speech, he stated that China would not permit naval patrols by the US and its allies to be “a pretext to exercise hegemony of navigation.” When questioned about the incident in the Taiwan Strait, he only mentioned that countries outside the region were contributing to tensions.
He delivered his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the only annual security meeting in the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing has declined a US request for direct military talks in protest of sanctions imposed on General Li by the US in 2018 over weapons purchases from Russia. At the Singapore summit, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin criticised China for refusing to hold military discussions.
Despite their brief interaction at the event’s opening dinner on Friday, General Austin and General Li did not engage in any substantive exchanges, according to reports. Zhou Bo, a retired officer of the People’s Liberation Army, said that the Chinese defence minister’s “moderate” tone indicates that talks with his US counterpart are possible, but Washington must first lift sanctions against him. The sanctions prevent General Li from travelling to the US and make it difficult for him to invite General Austin to China.
At the Singapore summit, senior intelligence officials attended a meeting of spy chiefs, as reported by Reuters. Despite the diplomatic dispute, a top US State Department official has arrived in Beijing for a week of wide-ranging talks. Relations between Washington and Beijing have been tense in recent years due to several issues, including China’s claim over Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
A senior PLA official, Lt. Gen. Jing Jianfeng, stated that there was no room for compromise on Taiwan and accused the US of meddling in the region. He also warned that Washington’s decision to increase the number of troops on rotational deployment in the region could heighten the risk of a confrontation.
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