Chinese defence minister unlike his US counterpart calls for dialogue rather than confrontation as global spy chiefs meet
Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu told Asia’s top security summit on Sunday that conflict with the United States would be an “unbearable disaster” but that his country sought dialogue over confrontation.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Li said the world was big enough for China and the U.S. to grow together – remarks made days after he refused to meet his U.S. counterpart for direct talks.
“China and the U.S. have different systems and are different in many other ways,” he said in a speech that marked his first significant international address since he was named China’s Minister of National Defence in March.
“However, this should not keep the two sides from seeking common ground and common interests to grow bilateral ties and deepen cooperation,” he said. “It is undeniable that a severe conflict or confrontation between China and the U.S. will be an unbearable disaster for the world.”
Wearing the general’s uniform of the People’s Liberation Army, Li made his address on the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
As delegates at the summit debated the risks of accidents and miscalculations amid those tensions, the U.S. Navy said a Chinese destroyer made “unsafe” manoeuvres near a U.S. warship in the Taiwan Straits on Saturday, highlighting the dangers.
China’s military criticised the United States and Canada for “deliberately provoking risk” after their warships staged a rare joint sailing through the sensitive strait.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said U.S. and Canadian ships were operating routinely and under high-seas freedoms.
Canadian defence minister Anita Anand said that Canada would continue to sail where international law allows, including the Strait, and that “actors in this region must engage responsibly”.
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.”
Li more restrained in his address, took thinly veiled digs at the United States, accusing “some countries” of intensifying an arms race and wilfully interfering in the internal affairs of others.
“A Cold War mentality is now resurgent, greatly increasing security risks,” he said. “Mutual respect should prevail over bullying and hegemony.”
Li, sanctioned by the United States in 2018 over weapons purchases from Russia, shook hands with Austin at a dinner on Friday but the two have not had a deeper discussion, despite repeated U.S. demands for more military exchanges.
Alongside the speeches and panel discussions, senior intelligence officials from both sides attended a secret meeting of spy chiefs in Singapore on the fringes of the summit, Reuters reported on Sunday.
“The meeting is an important fixture on the international shadow agenda,” one Reuters source stated, describing the gathering as “not a festival of tradecraft, but rather a way of promoting a deeper understanding of intentions and bottom lines”.
The source added that “there is an unspoken code among intelligence services that they can talk when more formal and open diplomacy is harder.” Another Reuters source described the tone of the meeting as cooperative, and not confrontational.
The Shangri-La Dialogue security summit has been organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an independent UK-based think tank, on a regular basis since 2002. It serves as a platform for debating Asia-Pacific’s security issues and promoting dialogue.