SINGAPORE (AP) — China’s defense minister on Sunday defended one of its warships crossing the path of a US destroyer and a Canadian frigate in the Taiwan Strait, telling a Singapore meeting of several of the top defense officials in the world that the so-called “freedom of navigation” patrols are a provocation to China.
In his first public appearance since becoming defense minister in March, General Li Shangfu told the Shangri-La Dialogue that China has no problem with “innocent passage” but that “we must prevent attempts that try to use those freedom of navigation (patrols), that innocent step, to exercise navigation hegemony”.
At the same forum on Saturday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington would not “flag under coercion and intimidation” by China and would continue to sail and fly around the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea to stress that they are in international waters, contrary to Beijing’s extensive territorial claims.
Earlier that day, a US guided-missile destroyer and a Canadian frigate were intercepted by a Chinese military ship as they passed through the strait between the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, and mainland China. The Chinese ship passed the American and then crossed ahead of her bow at a distance of about 150 yards (140 meters) in an “unsafe manner,” according to the US Indo-Pacific Command.
In addition, the United States has said that a Chinese J-16 fighter “performed an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” last month when it intercepted a US reconnaissance craft over the South China Sea, flying just ahead of the plane.
These and other previous incidents have raised concerns about a possible accident that could lead to an escalation between the two countries in a climate of high tensions.
Li suggested that the United States and its allies had created the danger and should focus on “taking care of their airspace and territorial waters.”
The Chinese minister declined Austin’s invitation to meet separately during the conference, though the two shook hands before sitting at opposite ends of the same table at the forum’s opening on Friday.
Austin said that “a cordial handshake at dinner is no substitute for meaningful conversation.”
The United States has said that since 2021 – long before Li became minister – China has rejected or failed to respond to more than a dozen requests from the US Department of Defense to speak to high-level officials, as well as several requests for continued dialogues and interactions in working groups.
Li said that “China is open to communications between our two countries and also between our two militaries,” though he said exchanges should be “based on mutual respect.”
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