SINGAPORE — China’s defense minister defended sailing a warship across the path of an American destroyer and Canadian frigate transiting the Taiwan Strait, telling a gathering of some of the world’s top defense officials in Singapore on Sunday that such so-called “freedom of navigation” patrols are a provocation to China.
In his first international public address since becoming defense minister in March, Gen. Li Shangfu told the Shangri-La Dialogue that China doesn’t have any problems with “innocent passage” but that “we must prevent attempts that try to use those freedom of navigation (patrols), that innocent passage, to exercise hegemony of navigation.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the same forum Saturday that Washington would not “flinch in the face of bullying or coercion” from China and would continue regularly sailing through and flying over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to emphasize they are international waters, countering Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims.
That same day, as a U.S. guided-missile destroyer and a Canadian frigate were intercepted by a Chinese warship as they transited the strait between the self-governed island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, and mainland China. The Chinese vessel overtook the American ship and then veered across its bow at a distance of 150 yards in an “unsafe manner,” according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
Additionally, the U.S. has said a Chinese J-16 fighter late last month “performed an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” while intercepting a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, flying directly in front of the plane’s nose.
Those and previous incidents have raised concerns of a possible accident occurring that could lead to an escalation between the two nations at a time when tensions are already high.
Li suggested the U.S. and its allies had created the danger, and should instead should focus on taking “good care of your own territorial airspace and waters.”
“The best way is for the countries, especially the naval vessels and fighter jets of countries, not to do closing actions around other countries’ territories,” he said through an interpreter. “What’s the point of going there? In China we always say, ‘Mind your own business.’”