US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (2nd left) and other defence ministers gather during in Singapore. AP
China’s defence minister accused the United States on Sunday of trying to “hijack” the support of countries in the Asia-Pacific region to turn them against Beijing, saying Washington is seeking to advance its own interests “under the guise of multilateralism.”
Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe lashed out at US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, rejecting his “smearing accusation” the day before at the Shangri-La Dialogue that China was causing instability with its claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan and its increased military activity in the area.
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Austin had stressed the need for multilateral partnerships with nations in the Indo-Pacific, which Wei suggested was an attempt to back China into a corner.
China’s Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe (right) interacts during the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore. AP
“No country should impose its will on others or bully others under the guise of multilateralism,” he said. ” The strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo-Pacific to hijack countries in our region and target one specific country – it is a strategy to create conflict and confrontation to contain and encircle others.”
China has been rapidly modernising its military and seeking to expand its influence and ambitions in the region, recently signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that many fear could lead to a Chinese naval base in the Pacific, and breaking ground this past week on a naval port expansion project in Cambodia that could give Beijing a foothold in the Gulf of Thailand.
Last year US officials accused China of testing a hypersonic missile, a weapon harder for missile defense systems to counter, but China insisted it had been a “routine test of a spacecraft.”