BEIJING (AP) — Singapore’s defense minister urged China as a dominant power in Asia to take the lead in reducing tensions in the region, warning that a military conflict like the one in Ukraine or the Israel-Hamas war would be devastating for the continent and its future.
Speaking Tuesday on the third and final day of an annual defense conference held by China, Ng Eng Hen stressed the importance of military-to-military communication to manage crises, expressing hope that the United States and China would resume the use of their military hotline.
Peace is precarious and never a given anywhere in the world, Ng said. “What has happened in Europe and the Middle East must never occur here. … We must do all we can to avoid it.”
The Xiangshan Forum brought together defense officials from dozens of countries and organizations. China, which recently sacked its defense minister, was represented by Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu used the forum to highlight Russia’s deepening ties with China as it faces isolation from the West over its invasion of Ukraine.
Shoigu was given a military honor guard reception before a meeting with Zhang on Monday. The Russian Tass news agency quoted Zhang as saying that China is ready to respond with Russia to security threats and challenges and “jointly maintain global strategic balance and stability.”
Ukraine’s defense attaché took issue with the conference giving the floor to Shoigu and the defense minister of pro-Russia Belarus on Monday, followed by an Iranian official who defended Russia’s invasion on Tuesday.
“There is only North Korea missing to see the full parade of evil,” the attaché, Klymyshyn Petro, said during a question and answer session after a speech by Seyed Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s leader.
Safavi described the invasion as a defensive reaction to U.S. and EU efforts to expand NATO to the Russian border, and said that Ukraine is paying a high price because the U.S. and NATO don’t want to fight with Russia directly.
Ng, noting the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the nuclear threat from North Korea, said it is vital for defense and military establishments to engage to reduce the risk of miscalculations and mishaps.
He applauded codes that have been adopted to manage unplanned military encounters at sea and said they should be expanded to include coast guards, which frequently face off in disputed waters.
The Philippines and China exchanged accusations and warnings Tuesday after China’s navy and air force tracked a Philippine navy ship near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
China froze military exchanges with the U.S. in August 2022, but the two sides appear to be restarting dialogue, including on security ahead of a possible meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.
The U.S. sent a representative to the Xiangshan forum, Cynthia Carras, the Defense Department’s principal director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia.
Ng appealed to China to assure other nations that it is not a threat as it grows more powerful.
“Whether China accepts it or not, wants it or not, it is already seen as a dominant power and must therefore act as a benevolent one,” he said.
China has sought to portray itself as a non-threatening global power and different from Western powers — though clearly some of its neighbors and the U.S. view it as a potential threat.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry official, quoting the country’s president, told the conference that China would better safeguard world peace through its own development.
“This path is neither the old path of colonization and plunder, nor the crooked path taken by some countries to seek hegemony once they grow strong, but the right course of peaceful development,” said Nong Rong, an assistant minister of foreign affairs.
Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang in Beijing and writer Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran contributed to this report.