China has been incensed by recent moves by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to increase support for self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, including U.S. Navy sailings through the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from mainland China.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense summit, Wei said China would “fight to the end” if anyone tried to interfere in its relationship with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a sacred territory to be taken by force if necessary.
Wei, the first Chinese defense minister to speak at the Shangri-La Dialogue since 2011, said Beijing’s military operations in Asia were purely aimed at self-defense, but it would not hesitate to counter an attack on its interests.
“China will not attack unless we are attacked,” Wei said, cautioning that there would be dire consequences to any clash between China and the United States.
“The two sides realize that conflict, or a war between them, would bring disaster to both countries and the world.”
The United States, like most countries, has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is its strongest backer and main source of weapons.
On Saturday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the Shangri-La meeting that the United States would no longer “tiptoe” around Chinese behavior in Asia.
While Shanahan’s speech was critical of China, his tone was often conciliatory. Wei took a more combative approach.
“No attempts to split China will succeed. Any interference in the Taiwan question is doomed to failure,” said Wei, dressed in his uniform of a general in the People’s Liberation Army.
“If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs ... The U.S. is indivisible, and so is China. China must be, and will be, reunified.”
China-U.S. ties have become increasingly strained due to a bitter trade war, U.S. support for Taiwan and China’s muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols.