Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe yesterday reiterated China's stand on its trade friction with the United States, saying that his country's door is open if the US wants to talk, but that it would "fight till the end" if a fight is what Washington wants.
Speaking in Mandarin at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, he said: "A talk? Welcome. A fight? Ready. Bully us? No way."
His remarks came as China released a White Paper in Beijing yesterday accusing the US of changing its demands in talks to reach a deal to end the ongoing trade war.
The document also pointed out that the trade tariffs imposed by the US on Chinese goods were hurting America's own economy as well as that of the world.
The paper was presented by Vice-Minister for Commerce Wang Shouwen, who rebutted US accusations that China was the party that had backtracked and that it had stolen intellectual property and forced US companies to transfer technology to Chinese ones.
The paper spelt out what China wants as prerequisites for a deal.
In Singapore, General Wei, the highest-level Chinese official to speak at the Shangri-La Dialogue in nearly a decade - after then Defence Minister Liang Guanglie's participation in 2011 - set out China's position on several issues of concern to the Asian power and the region.
He spoke out strongly on the Taiwan question, the first issue he raised in his speech, indicating its importance to China. Gen Wei stressed that China and the self-ruled island must be reunified.
"If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs for national unity," he said.
He accused the US of interfering in China's affairs through its Taiwan Relations Act, which governs Washington's relations with the island that is seen by China as a breakaway province. The law allows the US to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive nature, among other things.
"We can find no justifiable reasons for the US to interfere in the Taiwan question by its domestic law," he said.
Gen Wei warned that no attempts to split China shall succeed and that "foreign intervention in the Taiwan question is doomed to failure".
Analysts have said China is increasingly worried about the US using Taiwan as a card in their relationship. The US under President Donald Trump has moved closer to Taiwan, including enacting a new Taiwan Travel Act that allows high-level US officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa.
The second issue raised by Gen Wei was the South China Sea, where China has overlapping claims with four Asean countries.
Noting that the situation in the resource-rich waters is improving and moving towards greater stability, he said there are "people trying to rake in profits by stirring up troubles in the region", in a veiled reference to the US.
He justified China's building of islands on rocks and reefs in the contested waters, saying "it is the legitimate rights of a sovereign state to carry out construction on its own territory". He also defended the building of military facilities on these reclaimed islands, saying that "in the face of heavily armed warships and military aircraft, how can we stay impervious and not build some defence facilities"?
Though he did not elaborate, he was likely referring to the freedom of navigation and overflight operations the US military has been conducting in waters close to these islands.
Gen Wei was speaking on the third and final day of the security summit, where defence ministers from the region, including Singapore's Dr Ng Eng Hen, also discussed conflict prevention in contested domains such as the South China Sea, and the building of a resilient and stable region.
The high-level participation by China at a summit Beijing sees as US-dominated comes at a time of growing China-US rivalry. The Chinese are worried that if they do not come and explain China's positions, perhaps more countries will be influenced by the US vision of the Indo-Pacific articulated by Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Saturday, said security expert Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.