China calls on other countries to build mutual trust but draws the line on issues of sovereignty

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe salutes after addressing the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, China on Oct 25, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - In a world becoming more multipolar and globalised, China is not the country going against the trend of the times and clinging to "hegemonism and confrontational security relations", Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said on Thursday (Oct 25).

And as its trade war with the United States heats up and with the world today "facing surging anti-globalisation", Beijing is calling on countries to work with it to build mutual trust and deepen international security cooperation, General Wei said at the opening of the 8th Beijing Xiangshan Forum, a security conference.

"Although the Asia-Pacific is generally stable, potential risks exist with military alliances, military provocation and external interference adding to the uncertainty and instability of the region," Gen Wei said, in one of many thinly-veiled references to the US.

"In response to these challenges and threats, the international community should make rational judgements based on thorough reflections over major security issues affecting international peace and development."

While he called the China-US military relationship "important and sensitive" and said that Beijing wants to stabilise ties with Washington, Gen Wei blasted the US for defaming China and making unwarranted accusations against China's domestic and foreign policies.

Without naming US Vice-President Mike Pence, Gen Wei said remarks earlier this month alleging Chinese interference in the US' internal affairs "severely undermined relations, mutual trust and cooperation" between the two countries.

"We strongly urge the US to correct its wrongful statement and refrain from harming China's interests and bilateral relations."

The increasingly heated rhetoric and hardening of positions on both sides were clear as Gen Wei called on countries to pursue openness and inclusiveness and to oppose unilateralism and "beggar-thy-neighbour" policies that serve one's own interest at others' expense.

He also warned countries against testing China's bottomline repeatedly on the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty, and defended its actions in the South China Sea.

"If anyone ever tries to cede Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will take resolute actions and we will pay whatever price that has to be paid," he said, after the US on Monday (Oct 22) sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait.

This was the second time in three months that the US had conducted what it calls freedom of navigation exercises there, which China considers an affront to its sovereignty.

Last month, the US also approved a US$330 million (S$455 million) arms sale to Taiwan that further irked China.

Gen Wei also called the build-up of military assets on features it controls in the South China Sea "necessary defence facilities". China has received flak for going back on an earlier promise not to militarise the disputed waters.

"(The islands) have long been China's territory: they are the legacy of our ancestors, and we cannot afford to lose a single inch of them," he said.

"The necessary defence facilities that we built there are an exercise of the rights of self-preservation and self-defence as a sovereign state; it has nothing to do with militarisation."

However, China also pledged to continue deepening ties with other countries and militaries, particularly in the region. Gen Wei cited China's active participation in Asean-led regional forums such as the Asean Defence Minister's Meeting-Plus and Asean Regional Forum.

"We will always be partners and good friends to our neighbouring countries," he said.

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