Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told a security forum on Thursday that China will use military force to prevent Taiwan from asserting its independence.
The minister’s comments may have been prompted by the transit of two U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday. Wei has previously cultivated what the Defense Ministry called a “positive and constructive” relationship with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Wei spoke at the beginning of the semi-annual Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, a three-day conference billed as a platform for international cooperation with attendees from over 70 countries. Wei’s opening ceremony also included reading a letter of congratulations from Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. The overall theme of the conference was “win-win cooperation” with a more open and friendly China.
“Xi called on participants to pool wisdom, build consensus, contribute to a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation, and work together to build a brighter future for mankind during the forum,” China’s state-run Xinhua news service said of the letter read by Wei.
Evidently, none of that upbeat Chinese bonhomie applies to Taiwan.
“The Taiwan issue is related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and touches upon China’s core interests,” said Wei in his opening remarks.
“On this issue, it is extremely dangerous to repeatedly challenge China’s bottom line. If someone tries to separate out Taiwan, China’s military will take the necessary actions at any cost,” he warned.
“The islands in the South China Sea have long been China’s territory. They’re the legacy of our ancestors and we can’t afford to lose a single inch of them,” Wei added, referring to territory disputed by several other countries.
“The South China Sea situation is stabilizing, which proves that all countries can take care of their own affairs. China opposes countries that come to the South China Sea from outside of the region in the name of freedom of navigation to show force and provoke, which leads to rising tensions,” Wei said, a clear jab at American and British patrols in the South China Sea.
Despite these menacing statements, Wei insisted the Chinese military “will never become a threat to other countries.”
“Regardless of our level of development, we will not seek hegemony, we will not engage in any military expansion or arms race,” he said. Those assurances are odd considering that China is currently embarked upon one of the biggest military expansions in the history of the world.
Wei met with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore last Friday, a meeting described by both sides as a constructive effort to reduce political and military tensions. The meeting, however, failed to produce any major declarations.
A Pentagon official said Mattis told Wei about “the reactions that he hears from other countries and their concern and confusion over China’s actions not necessarily matching their words.” Wei’s remarks at the Xiangshan conference seem unlikely to alleviate either concern or confusion.