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China warns of ‘limits’ to its restraint on US provocation in South China Sea

China’s Defense Minister Dong Jun speaks during the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore on June 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

China’s defense minister has warned the US over the deployment of ballistic missiles in the Asia-Pacific region, stressing that there are “limits” to Beijing’s restraint in dealing with such acts of provocation in the South China Sea.

Dong Jun raised the alarm at an international security forum in Singapore on Sunday in a clear reference to the United States and the Philippines, which have been boosting their military ties to contain what they claim to be China’s growing military might and influence in the strategic body of water.

“China has maintained sufficient restraint in the face of rights infringements and provocation, but there are limits to this,” Dong told the Shangri-La Dialogue, which is attended by defense officials from around the world.

The two longstanding treaty allies, the United States and the Philippines have been working to consolidate their alliance and partnership in the Asia-Pacific region, which has enraged Beijing.

The US Army said in April that it had deployed a Mid-Range Capability missile system capable of firing the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) and the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile in the northern Philippines for annual joint exercises.

Dong said the deployment of “medium-range ballistic missiles” was “severely damaging regional security and stability.”

Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea but tensions have worsened under Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, with Manila pivoting to Washington, which supports the country in its maritime dispute with China.

China rebuked the Philippines in a statement in February for its unfriendly maneuvers in the South China Sea, saying Manila “stirs up trouble” by holding joint air patrols with “extraterritorial countries.”

China’s Southern Theater Command underlined that it had coordinated with its frontline naval and air forces to closely monitor the Philippines’ joint military maneuvers.

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China’s claim of sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea overlaps with the maritime claims of the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, in addition to, Chinese Taipei, also known as Taiwan.

Also, China has constructed several artificial islands over the past few years in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, which is a marginal sea of the Western Pacific Ocean. The move has drawn harsh criticism from the Philippines and the United States.

The South China Sea is believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and gas.

Beijing ready to ‘forcefully’ stop Taiwan’s independence

Addressing the three-day annual forum, Dong also warned that the Chinese military is ready to “forcefully” stop Taiwan independence.

Dong reiterated Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of China and expressed commitment to peaceful reunification.

“The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has always been an indestructible and powerful force in defense of the unification of the motherland, and it will act resolutely and forcefully at all times to curb the independence of Taiwan and to ensure that it never succeeds in its attempts,” China’s defense minister said.

“Whoever dares to split Taiwan from China will be crushed to pieces and suffer his own destruction.”

Dong also blamed separatist forces for eroding the “One China” principle, which states Beijing’s view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan.

In a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday, Dong emphasized Beijing’s demand that the United States should not support Taiwan independence by providing military aid to Taipei in any shape.

However, Austin told the forum on Saturday that Washington would maintain its presence in the Indo-Pacific region by forging military alliances with regional countries.

Beijing had cut its military-to-military communications with the United States in 2022 in response to then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

Beijing considers Chinese Taipei as one of mainland China’s provinces with no right to establish diplomatic relations with other states. China’s globally-accepted “one China” principle, which the United States has accepted, keeps Taiwan out of most international bodies.

China never supplied arms to parties in Ukraine war

Elsewhere, Dong told the Shangri-La Dialogue that Beijing has not supplied weapons either to Russia or to Ukraine and strictly controls exports of dual-purpose goods since the war began in the former Soviet republic.

“We have never supplied weapons to either party in the conflict. We have established strict control over exports of dual-purpose and never did anything that could fire up the situation,” the defense minister said.

China is always holding a reliable position on the Ukrainian issue and supports peace talks, Dong added.

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