SINGAPORE - China does not have the intention nor capacity to vie for the number one position in the world with the United States, said Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on Sunday (June 2) as he told a summit of defence ministers and military leaders that his country is committed to a path of peaceful development.
"All countries need to depend on each other for their own development," he said at a question and answer session at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
"Conflict, confrontation between countries, including that between China and the US, does not serve the interest of the two peoples and doesn't serve the interest of the whole world."
Even as he sought to assure the countries in the region that China is not seeking an all-out conflict with the US over trade, he promised that his country would not back down if pushed.
"As for the recent trade friction started by the US, if the US wants to talk, we will keep the door open. If they want a fight, we will fight till the end," he said in his speech.
On Saturday, Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at the summit that the US would no longer "look the other way", as he called out China's unfriendly behaviour in the region.
Speaking on the last day of the three-day summit, General Wei said: "We take note that the US expounded on its perspective on regional affairs yesterday. We believe that any such perspective should take into account the common security and interests of regional countries. No approaches to regional issues should resort to military blocs, nor should they undermine the interests of others."
In an apparent reference to the US, he also criticised "a certain country" that "champions unilateralism, puts its own interests before others, withdraws from international treaties and organisations".
In the same vein, he added: "Some deliberately create division and hostility, provoke confrontation, meddle with regional affairs, interfere in internal affairs of others, and frequently resort to arms. Whose interests on earth do they serve and whose do they harm?"
Outlining his country's position on Asia-Pacific, Gen Wei pledged that China would promote the building of a community with a shared future while safeguarding peace and stability in the region.
He said China is developing its military for self-defence only, and has never bullied or preyed on others, emphasising that it is written into the Constitution of the Communist Party of China that the country will pursue a path of peace.
"If this is not even convincing enough for some people, then we don't know what they would believe," he added.
Those who say otherwise and "recklessly" exaggerate China's threat to the region, he said, are doing so out of ignorance of Chinese history, culture and policies, and also due to misunderstanding, prejudice or even a hidden agenda.
"In the future, no matter how strong it becomes, China shall never threaten anyone, seek hegemony or establish spheres of influence," he said.
But in the same way, China will not let others "bully, prey on or invade us either" he added.
He took issue particularly with the US position on Taiwan, and on the South China Sea, where it is involved in overlapping territorial disputes with other countries in the region.
"If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will have no choice but to fight at all costs. At all costs, for national unity," he said.
He also warned Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party that China would not tolerate any foreign interference in the issue of reunification.
On the South China Sea, Gen Wei said China's constructions on the islands and reefs were for self-defence, and were perfectly legitimate.
During the speech, he also spoke about China-US cooperation. Both countries will mark 40 years of diplomatic ties this year, and the relationship has been growing steadily despite the ups and downs, he said.
"The most valuable lesson we have learnt from the four-decade long relationship is that cooperation benefits the two sides while confrontation hurts both. Looking forward, the two countries should follow the consensus by the two heads of state and promote a China-US relationship featuring coordination, cooperation and stability," he added.
Later, at a question and answer session that extended beyond the allotted time slot, with 16 questions asked, Gen Wei also touched on issues that ranged from security to Chinese tech company Huawei, terrorism and Tiananmen.
On the US ban on Huawei, he said China was resolutely against such sanctions on private companies.
Asked about the protests in Tiananmen Square, which happened on June 4, 1989, he said China had done the right thing in quelling the protests.
"Because of the handling of the Chinese government, China has enjoyed stability and development. And if you visit China, you can understand that part of history," he said.