In the strait between the island of Taiwan and mainland China, there had previously been a dangerous rapprochement between military ships from China and the United States.
Speaking at the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu said “Nato-like” alliances would plunge the Asia-Pacific region “into a whirlwind of disputes and conflicts.” Rather, the region needs “open and integrative cooperation”. A “violent conflict” between China and the US” would cause the world “excruciating pain,” the Chinese defense minister has warned.
The United States sees China as the greatest geopolitical challenge
His comments echoed long-standing Chinese criticism of US efforts to forge and solidify alliances in the region to counter China’s rise. A year and a half ago, the United States, Australia and Great Britain founded the Aukus security alliance in response to China’s increasing influence in the region.
Washington is also a member of what is known as the Quad Group, along with India, Japan and Australia. The alliance is also intended to counterbalance China’s military and economic claims to power.
The United States sees the economically and militarily emerging China as the greatest geopolitical challenge in the world. There are a number of points of contention between the two states, including trade and China’s dealings with Taiwan. Beijing regards the self-governing and democratic Taiwan as a breakaway territory that it wants to reunite with the mainland – if necessary using military force.
Chinese naval vessel reportedly approached ‘US destroyers’ in ‘unsafe manner’
There was another unfriendly encounter between the Chinese and US armies in the Taiwan Strait on Saturday. A Chinese naval ship approached the US destroyer USS Chung-Hoon in an “unsafe manner”, the US armed forces said. The Chinese ship overtook the “Chung-Hoon” twice in the strait at a distance of only around 140 meters.
Regarding the incident, Li said Sunday that the US has a duty to withdraw its military presence from areas near China. “It would be best if all countries, and especially their fighter jets and warships, refrained from roaming the airspace and waters of other countries. What are you hanging around here for?”
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was also in Singapore, called the incident in the Taiwan Strait “extremely dangerous”. He called on Beijing to “take the right measures to curb this type of behavior.” Otherwise, there could be “accidents that could cause things to get out of hand,” Austin warned.
There was no detailed direct exchange between Austin and his Chinese colleague in Singapore. Beijing had rejected such a bilateral meeting. Austin and Li shook hands at the conference’s kick-off dinner on Friday, exchanging only a few words.
Pentagon chief underlines continued dialogue between US and China
The Pentagon chief later underlined the importance of continued dialogue between the US and China. “Open communication” with Beijing is “essential, especially between our defense and military leaders,” Austin warned.
Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD), who was also present at the conference, said it was crucial to stay in touch with Beijing. Regarding tensions between China and Taiwan, he said, “No one seems interested in escalating at the moment.”
Unlike Austin, Pistorius had previously met with Li on the fringes of the conference for more than an hour. Both ministers found “clear words” for their positions, said the Federal Minister of Defense afterwards.
In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Pistorius announced Germany’s increased commitment to “peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region”. In view of the mutual dependencies between European and Asian countries and the effects of the Ukraine war on Asia, he also advocated increased cooperation. It was the first time in a long time that a German defense minister attended the Asia-Pacific security meeting.