Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu, addressing the prestigious Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, emphasized the importance of dialogue over conflict with the United States. He acknowledged the differences between the two countries but stressed the need to find common ground and foster bilateral ties. In his first significant international address since assuming office in March, Li expressed the belief that a severe conflict or confrontation between China and the US would have devastating consequences for the world. This article examines Li’s remarks and the strained relationship between the two nations, focusing on key issues such as Taiwan, the South China Sea disputes, and recent naval incidents.
Seeking Common Ground for Bilateral Ties
Li Shangfu highlighted the contrasting systems and differences between China and the United States, but he underlined the importance of seeking common ground and shared interests to strengthen bilateral relations. Recognizing the potential catastrophic outcomes of a severe conflict or confrontation, Li urged both countries to prioritize dialogue and cooperation over hostility. While acknowledging the challenges posed by their divergent systems, he emphasized the vastness of the world, indicating that both China and the US could coexist and thrive simultaneously.
Tensions and Strained Relations
The relationship between Washington and Beijing has become increasingly strained due to a variety of contentious issues. The US government’s support for democratically governed Taiwan, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and President Joe Biden’s restrictions on semiconductor chip exports have all contributed to the heightened tensions. These matters have the potential to trigger accidents and miscalculations, as evidenced by a recent incident where a Chinese destroyer engaged in unsafe maneuvers near a US warship in the Taiwan Straits.
The Freedom of Navigation Issue
China’s military criticized the United States and Canada for deliberately provoking risk by conducting joint sailing exercises in the sensitive Taiwan Straits. The US Indo-Pacific Command defended the routine operations of their ships and emphasized their adherence to high-seas freedoms. Canada’s defense minister, Anita Anand, reaffirmed their commitment to sail within the bounds of international law, including the Strait. Li Shangfu, in his address, emphasized China’s opposition to the US and its allies using freedom-of-navigation patrols as a pretext for exercising navigation hegemony.
Addressing Regional Concerns
During the summit, regional scholars raised concerns about China’s extensive maritime deployments in the disputed South China Sea and the recent naval incident. However, Li did not directly address these questions and instead highlighted that tensions were being escalated by countries outside the region. Richard Marles, Australia’s deputy prime minister and defense minister, emphasized his country’s efforts to improve military capabilities and presence in the region. Australia aims to contribute to the collective security of the Pacific and uphold the rules-based order, as demonstrated by the AUKUS pact with the United States and Britain.
Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu’s address at the Shangri-La Dialogue underscored the importance of dialogue and cooperation between China and the United States. While acknowledging the differences and challenges between the two nations, Li emphasized the need to find common ground and foster bilateral ties. The strained relations between the US and China, exacerbated by issues such as Taiwan and the South China Sea disputes, pose risks of accidents and miscalculations. The freedom of navigation issue and recent naval incidents further highlight the tensions between the two powers. As the international community closely observes these developments, finding avenues for dialogue and peaceful resolutions becomes increasingly crucial to maintaining global stability.