China’s Minister of National Defence, Li Shangfu, has stated that a war with the United States would have catastrophic consequences for the world. In his first major speech since assuming the role, General Li emphasized that certain countries were escalating an arms race in Asia. However, he believes that there is enough space in the world for both China and the US, and that the two superpowers should strive to find common ground.
The remarks came in the wake of the US accusing a Chinese destroyer of engaging in “unsafe” maneuvers near an American warship in the Taiwan Strait. The US Navy claimed that the Chinese vessel sailed in an unsafe manner as it traversed the strait alongside Canadian ships. China criticized both nations for deliberately provoking risks, while the US and Canada maintained that their actions were in accordance with international law.
Gen Li, who assumed the position of defence minister in March, accused the US of possessing a “Cold War mentality” and argued that this mindset was significantly increasing security risks. He asserted that China would not permit naval patrols conducted by the US and its allies to serve as a pretext for asserting navigation hegemony.
When asked about the incident in the Taiwan Strait, Gen Li suggested that countries from outside the region were responsible for escalating tensions. His speech was delivered at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the sole annual security meeting in the Asia-Pacific region.
China had previously rejected a US request for direct military talks in response to the sanctions imposed on Gen Li by the US in 2018 due to weapons acquisitions from Russia. At the Singapore summit, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reprimanded China for its refusal to engage in military discussions. Although Gen Austin and Gen Li shook hands and briefly spoke at the opening dinner of the event, no substantive exchange took place, according to reports.
A Chinese delegate informed AFP that the lifting of US sanctions on Gen Li was a precondition for initiating talks. Meanwhile, senior intelligence officials participated in a meeting of spy chiefs at the Singapore summit.
Despite the ongoing diplomatic dispute, a high-ranking US State Department official has arrived in Beijing for a week of comprehensive discussions. Relations between the US and China have been strained in recent years due to various issues, including China’s territorial claims over Taiwan and disputes over territories in the South China Sea.