China’s defense minister has strongly resisted accusations of aggression by the US as he seeks to present Beijing as a responsible power and Western countries as outsiders undermining stability in Asia.
General Wei Fenghe, speaking at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore on Sunday, China aims to become “a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, protector of international order and supplier of public goods”. Key phrase coined by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Wei’s comments come as defense and foreign policy officials and analysts at the forum confront China about threats against Taiwan, active interceptions of aircraft Western countries’ militaries in the South China Sea and its expanding ambition to build a foothold for its armed forces.
About Taiwan, Wei’s message is not as flexible but not more belligerent than usual. He declared the country “China’s Taiwan” and reiterated that Beijing considers the annexation of the island a historic mission that is “absolutely achievable” and that its military will be ready to fight. fight.
But Mr. Wei said that peaceful reunification was still “the greatest hope of the Chinese people, and we continue to remain sincere and willing to make the greatest efforts” to achieve it.
“Wei has laid out a pretty tight position that I assume is solid, but doesn’t break any new ground. He repeated the statement [China’s president] Xi [Jinping] work for [Joe] In November last year, Biden said that China would make every effort to pursue peaceful reunification,” said Bonnie Glaser, Asia Program Director at the German Marshall Fund.
The relatively calm stance comes as Beijing tries to avoid further escalation of tensions with the US over Taiwan. On Friday, China praised the meeting between Wei and the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been dominated by discussions on Taiwan as “frank, positive and constructive”.
Tomorrow, Austin criticizes Beijing in a summit speech on the “steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activities near Taiwan,” warning that the United States would maintain “our own capacity to against any use of force” against the country.
However, observers say China’s soft message shows that it remains firmly on the hard line. A US official said People’s Liberation Army officers have told their US counterparts in recent months that the Taiwan Strait is not international waters.
“It seems like a new position, and it makes sense,” says Glaser.
While Beijing has previously mostly complained about US support for Taiwan, Mr. Wei has also objected that “other countries” are meddling in China’s affairs on the island.
Meia Nouwens, an expert on the Chinese military at IISS who organized the conference, said: “He released a discreet statement acknowledging that they are watching what other countries are doing to support them. Taiwan.
Wei also defends PLA’s rapid modernization and expansion.
He said it was obvious that China was developing new weapons when asked by the Financial Times about a test of an advanced Chinese hypersonic weapon in July 2021 that shocked the Pentagon.
“Many countries are testing weapons. No wonder China does the same,” Wei said. “These weapons are to protect China’s national interests. . . It’s only natural that we have some new weapons.”
FT reported last year that the PLA tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon that circled the world and fired a missile as it flew over the South China Sea.
China’s Foreign Ministry previously denied the FT’s report, saying that China had tested a space plane. Wei’s comment marks the closest Beijing has confirmed to a hypersonic weapon test.
Ankit Panda, nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “General Wei acknowledged that last year’s test was a weapons demonstration, contradicting previous statements by the State Department. “The implication of his remarks is that we should expect more such tests, perhaps, as China continues to modernize.”
“However, we still do not understand whether China intends to equip such a weapon,” he added.