China accuses US of trying to ‘hijack’ support in Asia

(SINGAPORE) – China’s defense minister on Sunday accused the United States of trying to “hijack” support from countries in the Asia-Pacific region and turn them against Beijing, saying Washington was seeking to advance its own interests “under the guise of multilateralism”. .”

Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe hit out at US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, dismissing his ‘slanderous accusation’ the day before at the Shangri-La dialogue that China was causing instability with its claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan and its increase. military activities in the region.

Austin had stressed the need for multilateral partnerships with Indo-Pacific nations, which Wei said was an attempt to put China in a corner.

“No country should impose its will on others or bully others under the guise of multilateralism,” he said. “The strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo-Pacific to hijack countries in our region and target a specific country – it is a strategy to create conflicts and confrontations to contain and surround the others.”

China is rapidly modernizing its military and seeking to expand its influence and ambitions in the region, recently signing a security deal with the Solomon Islands that many believe could lead to a Chinese naval base in the Pacific, and inaugurating last week a naval port expansion project in Cambodia that could allow Beijing to gain a foothold in the Gulf of Thailand.

Last year, US officials accused China of testing a hypersonic missile, a more difficult weapon for missile defense systems to counter, but China insisted it was a “test routine of a spacecraft”.

Responding to a question about the test on Sunday, Wei came the closest so far to acknowledging that it was indeed a hypersonic missile, saying: “As for hypersonic weapons, many countries are developing weapons and I think it is not surprising that China does. .”

“China will develop its military,” he added. “I think it’s natural.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that China posed the “seriousest long-term challenge to the international order” for the United States, with its claims to Taiwan and its efforts to dominate the sea. of strategic southern China.

The United States and its allies have responded with so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, occasionally encountering a pushback from the Chinese military.

Wei accused the United States of “meddling in the affairs of our region” with the patrols, and “flexing the muscles by sending warships and fighter jets wild in the South China Sea.”

China has clashed with the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, over maritime claims and Wei said it was up to countries in the region to find their own solutions.

“China calls for transforming the South China Sea into a sea of ​​peace, friendship and cooperation,” he said. “It is the shared wish and responsibility of the countries of the region.”

Taiwan and China separated in a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it, while maintaining that it This is a domestic political issue.

Washington follows a “one China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei. It supplies arms to Taiwan and follows a “strategic ambiguity” approach to how far it would be willing to go to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. At the same time, he does not support Taiwan independence.

President Joe Biden raised his eyebrows and stinged China last month when he said the United States would intervene militarily if Taiwan was attacked, although the White House later said the comments did not reflect a change in policy.

Austin on Saturday accused China of threatening to change the status quo in Taiwan with a “steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity” near the island.

Wei fired back on Sunday that the United States is not sticking to its “one China” policy, saying it “keeps playing the Taiwan card against China.”

He said China’s “greatest wish” was a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, but also said Beijing was ready to do whatever it took to achieve its goals.

“China will definitely achieve reunification,” he said. “China’s reunification is a great cause of the Chinese nation, and it is a historical trend that no one or any force can stop.”

He added that China would “resolutely crush any attempt to pursue Taiwan independence.”

“We won’t hesitate to fight, we will fight at all costs and we will fight until the end,” he said. “It’s the only choice for China.”

Wei and Austin met one-on-one on Saturday, and Taiwan figured prominently in their talks, according to the U.S.

On Sunday, Wei met Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles in what the Australian Broadcasting Corp said was the first high-level meeting between the two countries in more than two years.

Marles said it had been three years since the Chinese and Australian defense ministers had met, and called the meeting a “critical first step”.

“As a sec. Austin observed after his own meeting with Defense Minister Wei, it’s really important in these times to have open lines of dialogue,” he told reporters.

“Relations between Australia and China are complex and it is precisely because of this complexity that it is really important that we engage in dialogue at this time.”

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