China’s defense minister on Sunday issued a stern rebuke to the United States amid the ongoing trade war and tension over the South China Sea and Taiwan, saying his country would “not let others prey on or divide us.”
Gen. Wei Fenghe told delegates at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that Beijing would not yield an inch of territory – and any foreign interference was doomed to failure.
He specifically called out the US and its Taiwan Relations Act, the 1979 law which permits Washington to provide defense weapons to the Taipei government and help defend the island from invasion.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province. The two separated at the end of a bloody civil war in 1949 and the US only has official diplomatic relations with Beijing.
“How can the US enact a law to interfere in China’s internal affairs? Is there any sense in that?” Wei asked.
Wei cited Abraham Lincoln fighting to keep the US united during the Civil War, adding: “Not a single country in the world would tolerate secession. The US is indivisible and so is China.”
Wei spoke at the conference a day after acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who challenged Beijing to adhere to a “rules-based order” so it could fully gain the trust of the international community.
But Wei said China was just taking measures to ensure prosperity and a better life for all involved.
“China has never provoked a war or conflict, taken land or invaded another country,” said Wei, the highest-ranking Chinese official to attend Asia’s top defense summit in eight years. “China has never preyed on others. We shall not let others prey on or divide us either.”
Beijing claims almost the entire 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory and aggressively asserts its stake. US military officials, meanwhile, have vowed to continue enforcing a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Wei portrayed the South China Sea situation as largely a stand-off between Washington and Beijing.
“Who is threatening security and stability in the South China Sea?” he asked, answering countries outside the region “who come to flex muscles” who would then “walk away and leave a mess behind.”
Those countries forced China to build up military facilities on the disputed islands, Wei said.
“In the face of heavily armed ships and military aircraft, how can we not build defense facilities,” he said.
Wei defended China’s detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province for economic and security reasons.
“The policy of China in Xinjiang is absolutely right. Because over the past more than two years there is no single terrorist attack in Xinjiang. The living standard of the local people has improved,” he said
Wei also blamed Washington for the ongoing trade war.
“As for the recent trade friction started by the US, if the US wants to talk we will keep the door open. If they want to fight, we will fight until the end,” he said.
“Bully us? No way,” he added.
CNN’s Mark Phillips contributed to this report.