Chinese military leaders talk tough on U.S. and Taiwan but offer small olive branch

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Chinese military leaders talk tough on U.S. and Taiwan but offer small olive branch

Chinese defense officials criticized the U.S. and made hawkish statements about Taiwan at the 10th Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, a three-day security conference that kicked off yesterday.

General Zhāng Yòuxiá 张又侠, vice chair of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, delivered a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the event, a task usually performed by China’s defense minister. (Beijing has not named a new defense minister following the unexplained disappearance and then official sacking last week of Lǐ Shàngfú 李尚福 from the position.)

No matter who wants to split Taiwan from China, Zhang said in his opening remarks, China’s military will never agree to it. In a veiled critique of the U.S., Zhang mentioned a “certain country” that interferes in Asia’s regional affairs and the internal affairs of other countries.

PLA Lieutenant General Hé Léi 何雷 told state media Global Times at the forum that any Chinese use of force around Taiwan would be legitimate and just.

“Once the Chinese government is forced to use force to resolve the Taiwan question, it will be a war for reunification, a just and legitimate war supported and participated in by the Chinese people, and a war to crush foreign interference,” He said.

“The United States must resolutely correct any behavior that interferes in China’s internal affairs and undermines China’s core interests, especially when it comes to the Taiwan issue and the South China Sea issue,” He told Chinese state media CGTN in a separate interview.

Still, General Zhang also stressed a need for developing and deepening defense cooperation with the U.S. A Pentagon report to Congress released this month showed there had been more “risky and coercive” Chinese intercepts of U.S. aircraft in the past two years than in the previous decade, a sign of ratcheted-up tensions and heightened risk of miscalculation between the two countries.

The hawkish He Lei also hinted at future dialogue with his U.S. counterparts in his interview.

Zhang’s remarks on improving U.S.-China defense ties were a notable sign of potential future trends, managing director of German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific program Bonnie Glaser told The China Project.

“There are several signs that Beijing is willing to resume some of the channels of dialogue and interaction between the U.S. and Chinese militaries,” she said.

“I expect this will be agreed upon at the Biden-Xi summit,” she added, referencing a meeting between Xi and Biden during Xi’s expected visit to the U.S. for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next month.

The U.S. delegation to the forum is being led by Xanthi Carras, principal director in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia. A U.S. defense chief has never attended the forum.

Delegations from more than 90 countries attended the conference, a new high for the Xiangshan Forum, which some observers say is Beijing’s answer to the yearly Shangri-la Dialogue, which takes place in Singapore. The Beijing event is named after the “Fragrant Hills” (香山 Xiāng Shān), an imperial park in part of the Western Hills in the suburbs of the city, which is also where the People’s Liberation Army has an underground command center and nuclear bunker.

Russia-China ties

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is also attending the conference in Beijing. He touted strong ties with China and took aim at the U.S. and NATO. He said, “The United States and NATO continue to seriously hope that they will be able to undermine Russia’s security and deprive us of the will to resist.”

“Russian-Chinese partnership and strategic engagement are being developed,” in contrast to worsening hotspots of conflict, which are a product of “Western escapades,” Shoigu added.

General Zhang echoed the warm feelings in a meeting with Shoigu at the forum. “Together with Russia, China is ready to actively respond to various security threats and challenges as well as jointly maintain global strategic balance and stability,” Zhang said.

Beijing has attempted to portray itself as neutral in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and has refrained from providing Russia with direct military support, but has continued buying Russian energy resources and selling the country dual-use equipment, a critical lifeline amid sweeping Western economic sanctions.

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