SINGAPORE – Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe criticised the United States on Sunday for its support for self-ruled Taiwan and for naval operations in the disputed South China Sea, but said conflict or war between the two countries would be a disaster.
Wei told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defence summit, that China would “fight to the end” if anyone tried to split China from Taiwan, which Beijing considers a sacred territory to be taken by force if necessary.
“No attempts to split China will succeed. Any interference in the Taiwan question is doomed to failure,” said Wei, who was dressed in his uniform of a general in the People’s Liberation Army.
China-U.S. ties have become increasingly strained due to a bitter trade war, U.S. support for Taiwan and China’s muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.
On Saturday, acting U.S. Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the meeting that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behaviour in Asia.
Wei, in a clear reference to the United States, also said: “Some countries from outside the region come to the South China Sea to flex muscles in the name of freedom of navigation.”
In a combative speech, Wei said China would “fight to the end” if the United States wanted to fight on trade issues. But if Washington wanted to talk, “we will keep the door open”.