US meddling in China's internal affairs, provoking Beijing, says Chinese defence minister

Confrontation between China and the US will be disastrous, says Li Shangfu

Chinese defence minister Li Shangfu Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu speaks at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore | Reuters

Chinese Defence Minister General Li Shangfu, addressing at the Shangri-La Dialogue, accused the US of meddling in China's internal affairs and provoking Beijing. Li said China and the US should find ways to improve their relations.

Addressing at the conference in Singapore, Li was quoted by South China Morning Post as saying, “Some countries intervene in the internal and regional affairs of other countries, frequently impose unilateral sanctions, threaten to use force, launch colour revolutions and proxy wars everywhere.” He added, “They then leave after bringing chaos to a region, leaving behind a mess. We must not allow this to be replicated in the Asia-Pacific.” 

The Chinese defence minister reportedly turned down an offer from the US defence secretary Lloyd Austin for talks on the sidelines of the summit. Li accused NATO of dividing Asia by expanding. “The crux of attempts at ‘Nato-fication’ of the Asia-Pacific is to hold regional nations hostage, promote conflict and confrontation, and plunge the Asia-Pacific into a whirlpool of division, disputes and conflicts,” SCMP quoted Li as saying. He added, "Bloc politics would destabilise the region." 

China's defence minister defended sailing a warship across the path of an American destroyer and Canadian frigate transiting the Taiwan Strait, telling a gathering of some of the world's top defence officials in Singapore on Sunday that such so-called freedom of navigation patrols are a provocation to China.

In his first international public address since becoming defence minister in March, Gen Li Shangfu told the Shangri-La Dialogue that China doesn't have any problems with innocent passage but that we must prevent attempts that try to use those freedom of navigation (patrols), that innocent passage, to exercise hegemony of navigation.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told the same forum Saturday that Washington would not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion from China and would continue regularly sailing through and flying over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to emphasise they are international waters, countering Beijing's sweeping territorial claims.

That same day, as a US guided-missile destroyer and a Canadian frigate were intercepted by a Chinese warship as they transited the strait between the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, and mainland China.

“The Chinese vessel overtook the American ship and then veered across its bow at a distance of 150 yards (about 140 metres) in an unsafe manner," according to the US Indo-Pacific Command.

Additionally, the US has said a Chinese J-16 fighter late last month performed an unnecessarily aggressive manoeuvre while intercepting a US Air Force reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, flying directly in front of the plane's nose.

Those and previous incidents have raised concerns of a possible accident occurring that could lead to an escalation between the two nations at a time when tensions are already high.

Li suggested the US and its allies had created the danger, and should instead focus on “taking good care of your own territorial airspace and waters.”

“The best way is for the countries, especially the naval vessels and fighter jets of countries, not to do closing actions around other countries' territories,” he said through an interpreter. “What's the point of going there? In China, we always say, 'Mind your own business'.” 

The Chinese defence minister said it was open to talks with the US. “ China is open to communications between our two countries and also between our two militaries,” he said. 

Li said that China is open to communications between "our two countries and also between our two militaries," but without mentioning the sanctions, said exchanges had to be based on mutual respect. 

Li said history has proven that a confrontation between the two countries would be disastrous. “History has proven time and again that both China and the United States will benefit from cooperation and lose from confrontation. China seeks to develop a new type of major-country relationship with the United States. As for the US side, it needs to act with sincerity, match its words with deeds, and take concrete actions together with China to stabilise the relations and prevent further deterioration,” Li said. 

(With PTI inputs.)


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