Dressed in his uniform as a general of the People's Liberation Army, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday warned the U.S. against trying to corner China and interfere in its internal affairs.
These moves are damaging the U.S.-China relations, he said.
“We request the U.S. side to stop smearing and containing China. Stop interfering in China’s internal affairs. The bilateral relationship cannot improve unless the U.S. side can do that," Wei said on the last day of the 3-day Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security meet, in Singapore.
The Chinese minister was responding to remarks by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said on Saturday that the U.S. will stand by its friends as they uphold their rights.
"That’s especially important as the PRC adopts a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims," Austin said, adding, "Now, as a part of our one-China policy, we will continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act. That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability."
China views assurances to stand by Taiwan and other countries in the region as "interference" by a non-Asian power.
Whatever efforts the U.S. makes, it will not deter China from its determination to oppose the independence of Taiwan, Wei said. “We will fight at all cost, and we will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China.”
“Those who pursue Taiwanese independence in an attempt to split China will definitely come to no good end,” he added.
China regards Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification by force if necessary. Taiwan is a self-ruled territory with its own flag, currency and military.
China had earlier managed a leading role in the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) by turning it into an ASEAN+1 dialogue with China. It has considerable influence as the biggest trade partner for most of the region’s countries and the leading military power.
But Chinese leaders now find that the country’s influence in the region is shifting due to the active role of the U.S. Some delegates attending the Shangri-La Dialogue said the shift toward siding with the U.S. included countries such as Singapore and Indonesia, which are dependent on China’s trade.
In fact, General Wei made no bones about the fact that he was worried about the initial success of the newly crafted Indo-Pacific strategy and the American promise of extending technological assistance to the region.
“To us, the [U.S.] strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo-Pacific, to hijack countries in our region and target one specific country,” Wei said adding, “It is a strategy to create conflict and confrontation to contain and encircle others.”
China has sent navy ships to patrol the South China Sea connected to several countries in the region, a move seen as a sign of aggression. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently accused China of harassing Canadian military jets in the skies above Asia. Australia’s department of defense said last month that a Chinese fighter jet recently intercepted one of its surveillance aircrafts in the area of the South China Sea.
However, a Chinese military official denied accusations of an aircraft maneuver of China’s military over Taiwan, at a press briefing Saturday.
“The air space where this event happened were … near China’s Xisha and Nansha Islands, not the air space of American allies,” Lieutenant General Zhang Zhenzhong, the senior Chinese military officer said. “China has to take necessary countermeasures to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests. The countermeasures we have taken are conducted in a professional and safe way. It is a natural right of a sovereign country to protect its territory.”
The Shangri-La Dialogue, which took place after a gap of two years, attracted defense ministers and officials from 42 countries. The event saw 30 different speakers including U.S. Defense Secretary Austin, Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.