Fanning the fire – even just words – can be dangerous. Politicians know this well, and also the generals. And Li Shangfu, for a handful of weeks, has been both at the same time. The Chinese aerospace engineer became the new defense minister of Xi Jinping’s “kingdom” last March. In which anti-American rhetoric is a highly successful national sport: it serves to consolidate that national and nationalist pride, strategic for the holding of the great oriental giant. But exceeding the tone of confrontation and concrete military provocations – such as the one of the past few hours, the umpteenth, in the Taiwan Strait – can tip the ball in US-China relations on too dangerous an inclined plane. With the risk of making the war between the two great powers a real one self-fulfilling prophecy. Li Shangfu showed that he was well aware of this, in his first important “strategic” speech since he assumed the role of government. A war with the US would be “an unsustainable disaster” for the globe, said the minister speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, one of the most important security forums in the region. Of course, Li Shangfu acknowledged, reiterating Chinese complaints about US interference, some countries are intensifying an “arms race” in Asia, and Beijing does not intend to tolerate Western naval encroachments that serve as a “pretext for exercising navigational hegemony”. But the world, the General balanced his speech, “is big enough for both China and the United States“. An invitation to calm, even for internal use, amidst the growing tensions in the Eastern seas.
The feeling with the Europeans
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was also present at the Singapore forum. The two counterparts met for the time of a handshake and a quick greeting during the opening dinner on Friday evening, but apparently they did not go beyond that: no exchange of substance. The underlying reason, at least on the Chinese side, lies in the fact that Li is being hit by American sanctions. Until the White House removes them, a Chinese representative clarified to AFP, no official talks will be possible. Instead, the minister had no problems meeting the highest level European interlocutors present in Singapore: from the EU High Representative Josep Borrell to the British Defense Minister Ben Wallace, up to his German colleague Boris Pistorius. Instead, he also closed the door to the Canadian representative, Anita Anand, as he reconstructs Politico. An implicit reaction to the alleged joint passage of American and Canadian warships in the Taiwan Strait over the weekend. A very different mood from the one you breathe in relations with the EU. Borrell spoke of a “constructive” meeting with the new minister, reaffirming his commitment on behalf of the 27 to “continue to develop EU-China relations on the basis of trust and respect for international law”.
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