China's defense minister said Beijing is open to a military dialogue with the US. But he stressed that China will not tolerate any provocations when it comes to Taiwan.
China's Defense Minister Li Shangfu said Sunday that Beijing is open to a dialogue with the US military over their fast-deteriorating relationship, but warned against "NATO-like" alliances in the Asia-Pacific, saying that it could plunge the region into conflict.
Confrontation between China and the US will be an "unbearable disaster for the world," Li said speaking at Asia's top defense summit currently taking place in Singapore.
He pointed out that the relationship between the two nations affects global strategic stability and that the "world is big enough for China and the US to grow together."
Li's comments at Shangri-La Dialogue come a day after US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin criticized China for declining an official invitation for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the summit.
Austin slammed Beijing for the lack of military communication saying, "the more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict."
Meanwhile, Li said that China will not tolerate any provocations when it comes to Taiwan.
"China will not tolerate attempts by Taiwan independence forces, external forces to separate from China," he said at the summit.
Relations between the US and China are at an all time low over a number of issues, including alleged attempts at espionage, trade tensions, restrictions on semiconductor chip exports and the ongoing war in Ukraine. However, the most contentious and sensitive subjects remain the future of Taiwan and the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Although Li spoke of seeking dialogue over confrontation with the US, the Chinese defense minister took thinly veiled digs at Washington, saying some countries were intensifying an arms race and interfering in the internal affairs of others.
"A Cold War mentality is now resurgent, greatly increasing security risks," he said. "Mutual respect should prevail over bullying and hegemony," Li said.
"In essence, attempts to push for NATO-like (alliances) in the Asia-Pacific is a way of kidnapping regional countries and exaggerating conflicts and confrontations, which will only plunge the Asia-Pacific into a whirlpool of disputes and conflicts," Li Shangfu told the security gathering.
A senior US State Department official is set to travel to China for talks next week.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink will discuss "key issues in the bilateral relationship" during his visit to China, the State Department said in a statement.
He will be joined by Sarah Beran, senior director for China and Taiwan Affairs at the White House National Security Council.
Speaking on the sidelines of the summit in Singapore, two Chinese military officers, on condition of anonymity, said that Beijing wanted clear signs of a less confrontational approach from Washington — including dropping sanctions against Defense Minister Li — before military-to-military talks could resume.
Late Saturday night, the Chinese military rebuked the US and Canada for "deliberately provoking risk" after the two nations staged a rare joint sailing through the controversial Taiwan Strait.
The US Navy said its guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and Canada's HMCS Montreal conducted a "routine" transit of the strait on Saturday "through waters where high-seas freedoms of navigation and overflight apply in accordance with international law."
"Chung-Hoon and Montreal's bilateral transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the US Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement.
While it is usual for US warships to pass the straitonce a month, doing so with an ally has further irked Beijing. Taiwan's Defense Ministry said the two ships sailed in a northerly direction and that it had observed nothing unusual.