China has vowed to “fight to the very end” to stop Taiwanese independence and warned that foreign interference in Taiwan is “doomed to fail”, stoking already soaring tensions with the United States over the self-ruled island.
“If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will … fight at all costs and we will fight to the very end. This is the only choice for China,” Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit on Sunday.
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In a fiery response to US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, who spoke on Saturday, Wei said: “No one should ever underestimate the resolve and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity”.
The superpowers are locked in a growing war of words over the self-ruled, democratic island, which Beijing views as part of its territory awaiting reunification.
In a veiled swipe at Washington, Wei said “some country keeps playing the Taiwan card against China” to “interfere in internal affairs”.
“No one can stop China’s path to reunification,” he added.
US defense secretary chides China
Austin on Saturday had accused Beijing of “provocative and destabilising” military activity in a speech to the Dialogue and said the US will stand by its allies and partners in the Asia Pacific.
Speaking on Sunday, Wei said it was up to the US to improve the relationship, as ties were at a critical juncture.
Repeating several times that China sought peace and stability and was not an aggressor, he said the US should “stop smearing and containing China. Stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.
“The bilateral relationship cannot improve unless the US side can do that,” Wei, dressed in his military uniform, told delegates.
He struck a more conciliatory tone, calling for a “stable” China-US relationship, which he said was “vital for global peace”.
Wei and Austin held their first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of the summit in Singapore on Friday.
Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from the summit, said Wei made a point of contrasting the US approach to Beijing’s.
“He characterised Beijing’s approach as one that is inclusive, that is supportive to helping the region develop… versus the way he characterised Washington as a meddling, unhelpful partner,” she said.
Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in particular due to increasing Chinese military aircraft incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
US President Joe Biden, during a visit to Japan last month, appeared to break decades of US policy when, in response to a question, he said Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked by China.
The White House has since insisted its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would intervene had not changed.
China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, have stoked tensions with rival claimants, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
China has also been accused of flying its planes and sailing its boats close to the coastlines of rival claimants in South China Sea and East China Sea, and of intercepting patrol planes in international airspace in a dangerous fashion.
Beijing’s claims to economic rights across large swaths of the South China Sea were rejected in a landmark Hague ruling in 2016.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, South Korean defence minister Lee Jong-sup said Seoul would boost its defence capabilities and work with the US in face of the threat from China.
Meanwhile, Japan warned against China’s attempts to change the status quo in the South and East China Sea and said the peace and security of the Taiwan Strait were important not only to Japan but to the international community.
Japanese defence minister Nobuo Kishi met on Sunday with Wei at the security summit and said he agreed with his Chinese counterpart to promote dialogue and exchanges.