SINGAPORE — In his first international appearance since Russia invaded Ukraine, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe focused on one target for all global crises: the United States.
From Taiwan to Ukraine, in explicit or implicit language, Wei Sunday focused on Washington, doubled down on the Chinese military’s will to fight, and stuck to Beijing’s subtly pro-Kremlin line. . The harsh message – a surprise even to some longtime Chinese observers attending the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore – came a day after his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin, singled out China as the source of instability in the Indo region. -peaceful.
Significantly, however, Wei was prompted to say that China had “provided no weapons” for Russia to deploy in Ukraine. He also repeatedly referred to it as a “war” during the unscripted Q&A session, going beyond the usual “conflict” label.
But there is little room for confusion over who should be most blamed for the situation from Beijing’s perspective. According to the Chinese Minister of Defense, Ukraine, Russia, China, Europe and Singapore, host country of the forum, are all affected by the consequences of the war.
He did not name the United States
“Who’s the mastermind behind all this [the war in Ukraine]?” Wei said. “Who has the most to gain? … Who is adding fuel to the fire?
Instead of asking Russia to withdraw its troops, Wei said it was time for the United States and NATO to talk to Russia to “create the conditions for a quick ceasefire.”
“Those who attach the bell to the tiger should take it off,” he said, invoking a clichéd Chinese expression.
Wei reserved his most uncompromising message for Taiwan.
“Those who seek independence for Taiwan with the aim of dividing China will certainly achieve no good. No one should ever underestimate the determination and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity,” a- he said, “We will fight at all costs and we will fight until the end. It is the only choice for China.
As if the message wasn’t clear enough, Wei said it would be “a road to death” if Taiwan declared independence from China.
A European diplomat described Wei’s comments on Taiwan as “stronger than usual”, noting that Wei now equates Taiwan’s ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, with independence advocates.
Harsh rhetoric aside, Wei has held several important bilateral meetings — including with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — at a time when Beijing remains largely off limits to foreign official visitors due to strict pandemic policies.
He notably met his new Australian counterpart, Richard Marles, on Sunday, the first such meeting after a three-year hiatus amid deteriorating relations between Canberra and Beijing.
“It was a full and frank discussion, which we think is a very important first step,” Marles told reporters afterwards, keen to paint a slowly warming dynamic different from the previous government’s hostile attitude towards China.
Marles said he would not “underestimate the difficulties” with Beijing, but added: “The fact that we were able to have this meeting today is an important step in the process.”