War with US would be unbearable disaster – China minister

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Esha Saxena Mandala
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China’s defence minister has said war with the US would be an “unbearable disaster” for the world in his first major speech since taking on the role.

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

But he said the world was big enough for both China and the US, and the two superpowers should seek common ground.

Earlier the US alleged “unsafe” manoeuvres by a Chinese destroyer near a US warship in the Taiwan strait.

On Saturday the US navy said a Chinese destroyer sailed “in an unsafe manner” near an American warship as it transited the Taiwan Strait with Canadian vessels.

China criticised both countries for “deliberately provoking risk”. The US and Canada said they were sailing where international law allows.

Gen Li, who became defence minister in March, accused the US of a “Cold War mentality” and said this was “greatly increasing security risks”.

In his speech he said China would not allow naval patrols by the US and its allies to be “a pretext to exercise hegemony of navigation”.

Asked about the incident in the Taiwan Strait, he said only that countries from outside the region were raising tensions.

He was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the Asia-Pacific region’s only annual security meeting.

Beijing has rejected a US request for direct military talks in protest at sanctions placed on Gen Li by the US in 2018 over weapons purchases from Russia.

At the Singapore summit, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin rebuked China for refusing to hold military discussions.

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

The Chinese defence minister’s “moderate” tone signals that talks with his US counterpart are possible, but Washington has to lift sanctions against him, said Zhou Bo, a retired officer of the People’s Liberation Army.

Gen Li was sanctioned in 2018 over the acquisition of military hardware from Russia. His five-year term as defence minister started earlier this year, but the sanctions prevent him from travelling to the US, and also make it difficult for him to invite Gen Austin to China, Mr Zhou added.

“If the sanction is there, how can we talk? The sanctions are very much consequential,” said Mr Zhou, now a senior fellow at Tsinghua University’s Centre for International Security and Strategy in Beijing.

Senior intelligence officials attended a meeting of spy chiefs at the Singapore summit, according to Reuters.

Despite the diplomatic spat, a top US state department official has arrived in Beijing for a week of wide-ranging talks.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have been strained in recent years over several issues, including China’s claim over 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 US of meddling in the region.

Washington’s decision to increase the number of troops on rotational deployment in the region could heighten the risk of a confrontation, he told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

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