Gen. Li Shangfu, the Defense Minister of China averred at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Sunday, June 4, 2023 that his country does not 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.”
This is his first international public address since becoming Defense Minister in March.
Li’s speech comes a day after U.S. Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin disclosed at the same forum that Washington would not “flinch in the face of bullying or coercion” from China and would continue regularly sailing through and flying over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to emphasize they are international waters, countering Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims.
That same day, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer and a Canadian frigate were intercepted by a Chinese warship as they transited the Taiwan Strait.
Li defended the Chinese move, suggesting that the U.S. and its allies had created the danger, and should instead 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. What’s the point of going there? In China we always say, ‘Mind your own business.’”Li Shangfu
Li echoed a number of Beijing’s well-known positions in his address, including its claim on Taiwan, calling it “the core of our core interests.”
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.
“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.’”Li Shangfu
Li Mocks U.S. Plan For A “Free, Open, And Secure Indo-Pacific”
Also, Li Shangfu mocked a U.S. intended plan for a “free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific,” saying “some country takes a selective approach to rules and international laws.”
Austin extensively outlined the U.S. vision for a “free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific within a world of rules and rights” in his speech at the dialogue on Saturday, June 3, 2023.
Austin said that in pursuance of this goal, the U.S. was stepping up planning, coordination and training with “friends from the East China Sea to the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean” with shared goals “to deter aggression and to deepen the rules and norms that promote prosperity and prevent conflict.”
“It likes forcing its own rules on others,” Li stated. “Its so-called ‘rules-based international order’ never tells you what the rules are and who made these rules,” he added.
Li iterated, “We practice multilateralism and pursue win-win cooperation.”
Meanwhile, the Chinese Defense Chief admitted that any “severe conflict or confrontation between China and the U.S. will be an unbearable disaster for the world,” and that the two countries need to find ways to improve relations, saying they were “at a record low.”
“History has proven time and again that both China and the United States will benefit from cooperation and lose from confrontation.
“China seeks to develop a new type of major-country relationship with the United States. As for the U.S. side, it needs to act with sincerity, match its words with deeds, and take concrete actions together with China to stabilize the relations and prevent further deterioration.”Li Shangfu
The U.S. has stated that China has declined or failed to respond to more than a dozen requests from the U.S. Defense Department to talk with senior leaders, as well as multiple requests for standing dialogues and working-level engagements since 2021, long before Li became Defense Minister.