4th June 2023 – (Singapore) China’s Defence Minister, Li Shangfu, has warned against forming military alliances resembling NATO in the Asia-Pacific region, claiming that such moves would lead to increased conflict and disputes in the region. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore on 4th June, Li said that the Asia-Pacific region needs “open and inclusive cooperation” rather than forming small cliques. He also emphasised the importance of not forgetting the disastrous impacts that the two world wars had on people in all countries and not allowing such tragedies to repeat themselves.
While Li did not name any specific country, his statements appeared to be directed at the United States, which has been strengthening its alliances and partnerships in the region. The US is a member of the AUKUS alliance, which includes Australia and Britain, as well as the QUAD group, which includes Australia, India, and Japan.
Li stated that the world is big enough for both China and the US to grow together. He expressed the belief that the two countries have different systems and are different in many other ways, but this should not prevent them from seeking common ground and interests to grow bilateral ties and deepen cooperation. He also warned that a severe conflict or confrontation between China and the US would be an unbearable disaster for the world.
Tensions between the US and China remain high over various issues, including Taiwan, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and President Joe Biden’s restrictions on semiconductor chip exports. The latest row between the two countries involves China’s military criticizing the US and Canada for “deliberately provoking risk” after the countries’ navies staged a rare joint sailing through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on June 5th.
While US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin rebuked China in a speech at the security meeting on June 4th for refusing to hold military talks, Li took a more restrained approach in his speech. However, he did take thinly veiled digs at the US, accusing “some countries” of intensifying an arms race and wilfully interfering in the internal affairs of others. Li also warned that a resurgence of the Cold War mentality is increasing security risks and that mutual respect should prevail over bullying and hegemony.
While Li shook hands with Austin at a dinner on June 4th, the two have not had a deeper discussion, despite repeated US demands for more military exchanges. Speaking privately on the sidelines of the conference, two Chinese military officers said that Beijing wanted clear signs from Washington of a less confrontational approach in Asia, including the dropping of sanctions against Li, before military-to-military talks could resume.