BEIJING: Chinese and Russian military chiefs targeted the United States for criticism at a security forum in Beijing on Monday, even as China’s second most senior military commander vowed to boost defence ties with Washington.

The lack of regular communications between the US and Chinese militaries has been a worry for Washington as tensions rise over various issues and given the risks of an accidental clash in the South China Sea or near Taiwan.

The Xiangshan Forum, China’s biggest annual show of military diplomacy, began on Sunday without a Chinese defence minister, who typically hosts the event, but including a US delegation.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu warned the West that its involvement in the Ukraine war created grave danger. “The Western line of steady escalation of the conflict with Russia carries the threat of a direct military clash between nuclear powers, which is fraught with catastrophic consequences,” Russian TASS state news agency cited Shoigu as saying at the forum.

Moscow says West intends to inflict ‘strategic defeat’ through a ‘hybrid war’

Shoigu said the West intended to inflict “strategic defeat” on Russia in what he called a “hybrid war”, and praised Russia-China relations as “exemplary”, Russian state media reported.

Zhang Youxia, vice chairman, under President Xi Jinping, of China’s Central Military Commis­sion, delivered veiled criticism of the United States and its allies, accusing “some countries” of trying to undermine China’s government.

But Zhang also stressed the need for improving military ties with the United States.

“We will deepen strategic cooperation and coordination with Russia and are willing to, on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation, develop military ties with the US,” Zhang said in an address closely watched by military attaches and diplomats. Zhang held talks with Shoigu on the sidelines of the forum, China’s Xinhua state media reported.

China’s defence minister has in previous years delivered the forum’s keynote speech but Li Shangfu was sacked as defence minister last week without explanation and a replacement has not been named. Reuters reported last month that Li, who has been missing for two months, was being investigated over corruption.

China and the US have had no high-level military-to-military com­mu­nications since the Washingtonsanc­tioned Li was appointed in March.

‘Here and listening’

The US defence department has sent a delegation led by Cynthia Xanthi Carras, China country director in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defence. Carras had a brief exchange with defence ministry spokesperson Wu Qian at the forum, a social media account affiliated with state broadcaster CCTV reported. Chad Spragia, a former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, stressed the importance of US participation.

“It’s important for the US to be here and not cede the space to others. We’re here and we’re listening,” said Sbragia, who said he was attending there in a research capacity.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2023

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