Li Shangfu: Chinese Defense Minister Says War With US Would Be Unbearably Disaster

  • By Monica Miller and Joshua Cheatham
  • in Singapore and London

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Li Shangfu became defense minister in March

China’s defense minister said in his first major speech that a war with the US would be an “unbearable disaster” for the world.

At a security summit, General Li Shangfu said “some countries” are intensifying the arms race in Asia.

But he said the world is big for both China and the US and both superpowers should seek common ground.

Earlier, the US accused a Chinese destroyer of making “unsafe” maneuvers near a US warship in the Taiwan Strait.

The U.S. Navy said on Saturday that a Chinese destroyer “unsafely” sailed close to a U.S. warship while crossing the Taiwan Strait with Canadian ships.

China has criticized both countries for deliberately stoking danger. The US and Canada said they would travel where international law allows.

In March, Defense Minister General Li accused the US of a “Cold War mentality” and said it “greatly increases security risks”.

In his speech, he said China would not allow naval patrols by the US and its allies.

When asked about the incident in the Taiwan Strait, he said only that countries from outside the region are creating tension.

He was addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the Asia-Pacific region’s only annual security gathering.

Beijing has rejected a US request for direct military talks in 2018 to protest US sanctions against General Li over his arms purchases from Russia.

General Austin and General Li shook hands and spoke briefly at the event’s opening dinner on Friday, but there was no substantive exchange, according to reports.

Zhou Bo, a retired officer in the People’s Liberation Army, said the Chinese defense minister’s “moderate” tone suggested talks with his US counterpart were possible, but that Washington should lift sanctions against him.

General Li was sanctioned in 2018 in connection with the acquisition of military hardware from Russia. His five-year term as defense minister began earlier this year, but economic sanctions prevent him from traveling to the US and make it difficult for him to invite General Austin to China, Mr Zhou added.

“If there is permission, how can we talk? Sanctions are very consequential,” said Mr Cho, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Senior intelligence officials attended a meeting of intelligence chiefs at the Singapore summit, Reuters reported.

Despite the diplomatic spat, the top US State Department official is in Beijing for a week of wide-ranging talks.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been strained by a number of issues in recent years, including China’s claim to Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

A senior PLA official, Lt. Gen. Jing Jianfeng, said there was no room for compromise on Taiwan as he accused the United States of meddling in the region.

Additional reporting by Samantha Chan in Singapore.

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