China says conflict with US would be ‘unbearable disaster’

China rejects US request for meeting between defence chiefs of the two countries

Vishwam Sankaran
Sunday 04 June 2023 12:35 BST
China's defence minister speaks on 'record low' US ties

Conflict with the US would be an “unbearable disaster” and the world is big enough for both countries to grow together, Chinese defence minister Li Shangfu said on Sunday.

Speaking at Asia’s top security summit in Singapore – the Shangri-La Dialogue – Mr Shangfu said China has sought dialogue over confrontation.

While China and the US “have different systems” and work in different ways, he said the two global powers should not stop seeking “common ground and common interests” to grow bilateral ties.

“It is undeniable that a severe conflict or confrontation between China and the US will be an unbearable disaster for the world,” the defence minister said.

Experts have warned that there is a significant probability of a war between China and the US, likely escalating to nuclear threats, with the former building up its nuclear forces in recent times.

“It is urgent that the two countries launch talks on nuclear arms control, both to prevent a nuclear arms race and to reassure each other that both want to avoid a nuclear conflict,” American physicist Richard Garwin, best known as the author of the first hydrogen bomb design, wrote in March.

Diplomatic relations between the two powerhouses have been strained in recent years due to a number of issues, including Taiwan’s claim for self-governance.

US president Joe Biden’s semiconductor chip export restrictions as well as disputes in the South China Sea have posed challenges in maintaining ties between the two nations.

Relations between the countries have been further strained following the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon by American forces.

China rejected a US request for a meeting between the defence chiefs of the two countries in Singapore.

While the Pentagon said it believes in open communication between the two nations “to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict”, China declined an invitation for US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart to meet.

“The PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish [the Defence Department’s] commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army,” Mr Shangfu was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.

While the two top officials reportedly shook hands on Friday, they did not have a deeper discussion, despite repeated requests from the US for a joint meeting.

The Chinese ministry said on Saturday that the US and Canada are “deliberately provoking risk”, as the navies of the North American countries staged joint exercises through the Taiwan Strait.

“A Cold War mentality is now resurgent, greatly increasing security risks. Mutual respect should prevail over bullying and hegemony,” Mr Shangfu said.

The Chinese defence minister is among officials from the country sanctioned by the US in the past over weapons purchases from Russia.

Hinting at the US, Mr Shangfu accused “some countries” of intensifying an arms race, and wilfully interfering in the internal affairs of others.

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