October 31, 2023
BEIJING – The world must guard against a resurgence of a “Cold War mentality”, warned China’s top general Zhang Youxia on Monday, as he criticised the actions of the United States and reiterated calls for peace talks between Israel and Hamas.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum, he accused “some countries” – without naming them – of having a zero-sum mindset, forming cliques and promoting unilateralism through erecting barriers.
Viewing the development of others as a threat and economic inter-dependence as a risk will not make lives better, nor contribute to progress, said Gen Zhang – likely a reference to American moves to curb Chinese access to advanced technology that can be used in military applications.
The great power rivalry between the US and China has shown no signs of abating, even as meetings between top officials from both sides – barring those between military leaders – have steadily resumed in recent months.
Regarding military dialogue between the two nations, which has been suspended for more than a year after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Gen Zhang said China was willing to develop these ties “on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation”.
The US and other Western allied countries, such as Britain and Canada, sent lower-level delegations to the three-day security conference, a major military diplomacy event for Beijing, which sees it as a platform to share its views on international security issues.
The US delegation is headed by Ms Xanthi Carras, principal director in the office of the deputy assistant secretary of defence for China, Taiwan and Mongolia.
For China, Gen Zhang, vice-chairman of China’s military high command, has stepped in to play key diplomatic roles at the event alongside the other Central Military Commission vice-chairman, General He Weidong, in the absence of a defence minister. They are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the military hierarchy after President Xi Jinping.
The previous defence minister, General Li Shangfu, was removed from the position earlier in October with no replacement named, a month after multiple reports said he was being investigated for corruption.
Gen Zhang gave welcome remarks at an opening dinner on Sunday. Gen Zhang and Gen He also held separate bilateral meetings over the weekend with counterparts from visiting countries such as Belarus, Cambodia and Vietnam.
On Monday, Gen Zhang said the world should redouble its efforts to eliminate wars and conflicts, referencing the ongoing wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.
“China upholds an objective and fair stance, supports the political settlement of the Ukrainian issue, and calls on all parties to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to cease fire immediately and resume peace talks at an early date,” he said.
He called China’s brokering of a historic deal between bitter rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran in March “a victory for dialogue and peace”. The deal resulted in the restoration of diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Teheran.
“The top priority is to prevent regional hot spots from escalating,” he said, adding that the geopolitical situation today is “severe” – in part due to the efforts of “some countries” to interfere in others’ internal affairs and instigate “colour revolutions”, a term that China has used to describe movements to topple a government with the support of a foreign power.
On Taiwan, which Beijing views as an inviolable part of its territory, Gen Zhang did not waver. He stressed that the Taiwan question is “at the heart of China’s core interests”, and the “one China” principle is the general consensus of the international community.
“You cannot base your own safety on the insecurity of others, not to mention deliberately provoking on major sensitive issues,” he said. “No matter who wants to separate Taiwan from China in any form, the Chinese military will never agree and will not show mercy.”
The latest edition of the Xiangshan forum, last held in 2019, has drawn more than 500 representatives from some 90 countries and international organisations. Organisers said this was a record number of participants, including more than 30 ministerial-level representatives and military chiefs.
Singapore’s delegation is headed by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is expected to give a speech at the event at the Beijing International Convention Centre and call on Gen He and other senior officials from the People’s Liberation Army.