Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe speaks at the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore on June 2, 2019. (Xinhua/Then Chih Wey)
by Xinhua writers Fei Liena, Lin Hao
SINGAPORE, June 2 (Xinhua) -- "While striving for common prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, we must respect the core interests and accommodate the security concerns of all," said Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe during his speech at the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue on Sunday.
"We in China do not covet the interests, nor envy the development, of others. However, we shall never give up our legitimate rights and interests," Wei added. "No country should ever expect China to allow its sovereignty, security and development interests to be infringed upon."
This was the first time for a Chinese defense minister to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue after eight years. Wei's honesty, frankness and not shying away from harsh questions gave delegates a good impression, said Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
COOPERATION BENEFITS CHINA, U.S.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the United States, and the bilateral relationship has been steadily growing in the past 40 years, despite all the ups and downs, Wei said.
"The most valuable lesson we have learned from the four-decade-long relationship is that cooperation benefits the two sides while confrontation hurts both," the defense minister said.
Wei's speech mentioned the essential part of China's policy on the United States, that is "fighting but not breaking," said Li. "We've seen the fighting, but Wei also emphasized cooperation, which is very important to all, so that regional countries don't have to choose sides."
During his speech, Wei noted that the two militaries have agreed on building their relationship into a stabilizer for the overall relations, maintaining regular communication on the strategic level, and managing risks and preventing conflicts.
"The two sides recognize that military conflicts or even a war between them would bring disasters to both countries and the world," he said. "It takes two to cooperate, but only one to start a fight."
Wei's speech echoed U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan's remarks a day ealier on building a bilateral military relationship as a stabilizer for the overall relations, said Francois Heisbourg, a senior adviser for Europe of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
"So I think maybe the two militaries have some scope for a degree of maintaining normality in relations. But that will depend on the political development," he added.
All participating defense ministers and other delegates to the dialogue were glad to hear from Wei that the Chinese military will interact more with the U.S. military and develop a better relationship, said Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen.
"This is good news for all of us," Ng said. "From the Singaporean perspective, both sides strengthening interaction will help lower risks and reduce misjudgement for either party."
At the event this year, over 600 defense ministers, policymakers and experts from about 40 countries gathered from Friday to Sunday to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific.
"We should respect and accommodate the legitimate security concerns of one another," Wei said. "China understands and respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries, and supports the social systems and development paths they independently choose."
"The minister has systematically elaborated China's concept on international security order, world peace and stability, regional security and safety, and explained some of China's specific actions, these have yielded positive results," said Li.
For one, Wei refuted the allegation that China is militarizing the South China Sea islands and reefs.
"It is the legitimate rights of a sovereign state to carry out construction on its own territory. China built limited defense facilities on the islands and reefs for self-defense," he said. "Where there are threats, there are defenses."
The current situation in the South China Sea is improving towards greater stability, Wei said. Over 100,000 ships sail through the South China Sea each year and "none has been threatened."
Wei talked about progress being made between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries in negotiating the Code of Conduct and "we look forward to the outcome of that," said Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
However, "there are always people trying to rake in profits by stirring up troubles in the region," Wei said, adding that in recent years, some countries outside the region have come to the South China Sea to flex muscles, in the name of freedom of navigation.
"The large-scale force projection and offensive operations in the region are the most serious destabilizing and uncertain factors in the South China Sea," he said.
Wei also talked about China's choices of peace and development, openness and inclusiveness, win-win cooperation, and mutual understanding among civilizations, as well as its commitment to regional and world prosperity and stability.
China has been playing an increasingly important role in the Asia-Pacific's security, and there are different kinds of security mechanisms in the region, said Zhou Bo, director of the Center for Security Cooperation at the Office for International Military Cooperation of the Chinese Defense Ministry. "That's why Wei reiterated that every security mechanism needs to be open, inclusive and transparent."
"We want China to have military capability in order to contribute to the maintenance of world peace. And we also want a strong Chinese military in order to enhance China's role in peacekeeping efforts worldwide and we want that to happen," Banlaoi said.
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, director general of the Institute of National Security Studies of Sri Lanka, said: "China's strategy is an inclusive strategy, trying to bring all nations together and trying to create a shared value."
On China's core Taiwan-related issues, Wei reiterated China's firm position and warned against any forces' attempt to split the island from the country.
The Taiwan question bears on China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and China must be and will be reunified, Wei said, adding that "if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs for national unity."
The defense minister said no attempts to split China shall succeed, and that foreign intervention in the Taiwan issue is doomed to fail.
As for Shanahan's remarks on Saturday, in which he said the United States will offer necessary support to Taiwan according to the "Taiwan Relations Act," Wei said, "We can find no justifiable reasons for the U.S. to interfere in the Taiwan question by its domestic law."
Li said Wei's remarks on Taiwan were firm and tough, and reflected China's determination that there is no room for compromise on the issue. Wei also made it clear to the United States not to go too far on Taiwan, Li added.
Heisbourg noted Wei's speech was "very impressive," adding that Wei "said twice 'at all costs' for national unity. This will be taken seriously by the audience."
Officially known as the Asia Security Summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue has been organized and convened annually by the British think tank IISS and the Singaporean government since 2002.
(Xinhua reporters Yuan Mengchen, Wang Lili, Li Xiaoyu and Zhao Qing also contributed to the report.)