General Wei Fenghe, China’s defense minister, warned June 2, 2019 that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would not “yield a single inch of the country’s sacred land.”

Wei said China’s military will “resolutely take action” to defend China’s claims over self-ruled Taiwan and disputed South China Sea waters.

Wei was addressing defense chiefs, officials and academics at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Wei did not direct the threat at the U.S. but loaded his address with criticism of activities by the U.S., including support for Taiwan and leading so-called freedom of navigation operations in the strategic waterways that China virtually claims as its own.

China maintains that Taiwan is part of China, which split from the mainland amid a civil war 70 years ago. China seeks a “peaceful reunification” while refusing to rule out the use of force if necessary to achieve that goal. The U.S. only has official diplomatic relations with China.

“The PLA has no intention to cause anybody trouble but it is not afraid to face up to troubles. Should anybody risk crossing the bottom line, the PLA will resolutely take action and defeat all enemies,” Wei said.

Relations between China and Taiwan have deteriorated since Taiwan elected a pro-independence president, Tsai Ing-wen, in 2016. China has since increased diplomatic pressure, cut off its contacts with the island’s government and discouraged travel there by Chinese tourists.

“China must be and will be reunified. We find no excuse not to do so. If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs, at all costs, for national unity,” Wei stressed.

“We will strive for the prospect of peaceful unification with utmost sincerity and greatest efforts, but we make no promise to renounce the use of force”, said the Chinese minister.

General Wei Fenghe specifically called out the U.S. and its Taiwan Relations Act, the 1979 law, which permits Washington to provide defense weapons to the Taipei government and help defend the island from invasion.

“How can the U.S. enact a law to interfere in China’s internal affairs? Is there any sense in that?” Wei asked.

Wei cited Abraham Lincoln fighting to keep the U.S. united during the Civil War, adding: “Not a single country in the world would tolerate secession. The U.S. is indivisible and so is China.”

China has constructed seven outposts equipped with airstrips, radar and missile stations over islands in the South China Sea. US military officials have vowed to continue enforcing a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Wei said China built “limited defense facilities” but much of it was aimed at improving services and infrastructure for people living there.

“It is only when there are threats would there be defenses. In face of heavily armed warships and military aircraft, how can we not deploy any defense facilities?” he said.

Wei said the countries recognize that a conflict or war between them would have wide-reaching effects.

“It takes two to cooperate but only one to start a fight,” he said.

He said: “We hope that the U.S. side will work with us towards the same goal, follow the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, and steer the China-US relations in the right direction.”

China last sent a high-ranking general to the conference in 2011.

Some observers see Wei’s presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue this time as a pointed attempt by China to cement its relationships in the region amid a trade war with the U.S. and having its businesses targeted with sanctions.

“China has never provoked a war or conflict, taken land or invaded another country,” said Wei. “China has never preyed on others. We shall not let others prey on or divide us either.”

Wei portrayed the South China Sea situation as largely a stand-off between Washington and Beijing.

“Who is threatening security and stability in the South China Sea?” he asked, answering countries outside the region “who come to flex muscles” who would then “walk away and leave a mess behind.”

Those countries forced China to build up military facilities on the disputed islands, Wei said.

“The policy of China in Xinjiang is absolutely right. Because over the past more than two years, there is no single terrorist attack in Xinjiang. The living standard of the local people has improved,” he said

Wei also blamed Washington for the ongoing trade war.

“As for the recent trade friction started by the U.S., if the U.S. wants to talk we will keep the door open. If they want to fight, we will fight until the end,” he said.

“Bully us? No way,” he added.

Patrick Shanahan, U.S. acting defense secretary, who spoke to the same gathering on Saturday, was not present at Wei’s speech.

The Shangri-La Dialogue is Asia’s premier defense summit, where ministers debate the region’s most pressing security challenges, engage in important bilateral talks and come up with fresh solutions together.

Since its launch in 2002, the Dialogue facilitates easy communication and fruitful contact among the region’s most important defense and security policymakers.

Each year’s dialogue agenda is wide-ranging, reflecting the many defense and security challenges facing a large and diverse region.

Chinese official denounces “America first” policy

In Beijing, a former top Chinese official denounced what he called the U.S. administration’s “bullying and America first” policy.

According to Reuters, Dai Xianglong, a former chief of the Chinese central bank, told a seminar in Beijing that President Xi Jinping of China and Mr. Trump would find it “difficult” to make much progress in the trade fight when they meet in a few weeks.

Shanahan tries to cool hostilities

Patrick Shanahan sought to lower the temperature on the Trump administration’s stew of hostilities with China on Friday, saying it was imperative to look for ways for the two competing militaries to “create upside” in their relationship, even in the middle of a trade war.

Shanahan barely mentioned China by name during a speech at the Singapore meeting of Asian military officials on Saturday.

However, he warned China that “behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions” should stop, in a clear reference to China’s militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“The United States does not seek conflict, but we know that having the capability to win wars is the best way to deter them,” said Shanahan.

Shanahan urged China to stop activities the U.S. perceives as hostile.

Pentagon’s report

At the same time of Shanahan’s speech, the Pentagon released a report criticizing what it characterized as China’s “aggressive” moves in the region.

Wei and Shanahan meet

Wei and Shanahan met on the sidelines of the conference Friday and agreed to improve communication and deepen exchanges and cooperation between their militaries.

During a 20-minute meeting, Shanahan asked that the Chinese military work to enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

Shanahan’s spokesperson, Col. Joe Buccino, said in a statement that the two men had “discussed ways to build military-to-military relations that reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between our nations.”

Those are standard talking points for meetings between top officials, who don’t have much to say to each other.

The Pentagon statement did not mention a list of contentious issues, including tariff increases, the fight over the Chinese technology giant Huawei, American weapons sales to Taiwan or China’s defensive measures in the South China Sea.


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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Mary Metzger says:

    Good Article. China has without fear “thrown down the gauntlet to the U.S. And Shanahan’s statements were relatively speaking, quite subdued. Shanahan was praised by American analysts for being firm without being provocative. He mentioned China by name only once. Very interesting.