Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu delivers a speech in Singapore
Photo: Associated Press
In his first international public address since becoming defense minister in March, General Li Shangfu told the Shangri-La Dialogue that China doesn’t have any problems with “innocent passage” but that “we must prevent attempts that try to use those freedom of navigation (patrols), that innocent passage, to exercise hegemony of navigation.”
A U.S. guided-missile destroyer and a Canadian frigate were intercepted by a Chinese warship as they transited the strait between the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, and mainland China. The Chinese vessel overtook the American ship and then veered across its bow at a distance of 150 yards in an “unsafe manner,” according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
Additionally, the U.S. has said a Chinese J-16 fighter jet late last month “performed an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” while intercepting a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, flying directly in front of the plane’s nose.
Those and previous incidents have raised concerns of a possible accident occurring that could lead to an escalation between the two nations at a time when tensions are already high.
Li suggested the U.S. and its allies had created the danger, and should instead should focus on taking “good care of your own territorial airspace and waters.”
“The best way is for the countries, especially the naval vessels and fighter jets of countries, not to do closing actions around other countries’ territories,” he said through an interpreter. “What’s the point of going there? In China we always say, ‘Mind your own business.’”
He accused the U.S. and others of “meddling in China’s internal affairs” by providing Taiwan with defense support and training, and conducting high-level diplomatic visits.
“China stays committed to the path of peaceful development, but we will never hesitate to defend our legitimate rights and interests, let alone sacrifice the nation’s core interests,” he said.
“As the lyrics of a well-known Chinese song go: ‘When friends visit us, we welcome them with fine wine. When jackals or wolves come, we will face them with shotguns.’”
In his speech U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin broadly outlined the U.S. vision for a “free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific within a world of rules and rights.”
Li scoffed at the notion, saying “some country takes a selective approach to rules and international laws.” “It likes forcing its own rules on others,” he said. “Its so-called ‘rules-based international order’ never tells you what the rules are and who made these rules.”
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