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 defense ties with Washington.
The lack of regular communications between the US and Chinese militaries has been a persistent worry for Washington amid tensions between the countries and the risk of an accidental clash in the South China Sea or near Taiwan.
The Beijing Xiangshan Forum, China’s biggest annual show of military diplomacy, began Sunday without the country’s defense minister, who typically hosts the event, but included a U.S. delegation amid roiling regional tensions.
Russia’s Defense 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,” Russia’s TASS state news agency cited Shoigu as saying at the forum.
Shoigu also said the West intends to inflict “strategic defeat” on Russia in a “hybrid war,” and praised the model of Russia-China relations as “exemplary,” Russian state media reported.
Zhang Youxia, vice chairman under President Xi Jinping on China’s Central Military Commission, delivered veiled criticism of the United States and its allies, accusing “some countries” of trying to undermine the government.
But in other parts of his speech, Zhang stressed the need for improved 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,” Mr. Zhang said in an address being closely watched by military attaches and diplomats amid tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
China’s defense minister delivered the keynote speech in previous years.
China and the US have had no high-level military-to-military communications since the Washington-sanctioned former Chinese defense minister, Li Shangfu, was appointed in March.
Mr. Li was sacked last week without explanation, and China did not name a replacement. Reuters reported last month that Li, who has been missing for two months, was being investigated over corruption.
The US Defense department has sent a delegation led by Cynthia Xanthi Carras, China country director in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense.
It is not yet known whether the US team will meet separately with Chinese military officials.
The participation of the U.S. delegation comes as the United States and China ramp up exchanges ahead of an expected summit between US President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month.
Last week, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met with Mr. Biden for an hour in talks the White House described as a “good opportunity” to keep open lines of communication between the two geopolitical rivals.
Despite the conciliatory remarks about improving China-US military relations, Zhang and some People’s Liberation Army officers gave no sign of a softer stance on issues such as Taiwan, which Beijing’s regards as its own territory.
Chinese Lieutenant General He Lei, speaking at a panel on Sunday, said that if China has to use force against Taiwan, “it will be a war for reunification, a just and legitimate war.”
In his speech, Mr. Zhang said that countries “should not deliberately provoke other countries on major and sensitive issues,” he said, adding that Taiwan is “a core interest” of China.
Many Western countries have either shunned the forum or are only sending small and low-level delegations, preferring instead to discuss international security issues at the Shangri-La Dialogue, held annually in Singapore.
Together with the commission’s third-ranked official, He Weidong, Mr. Zhang held bilateral meetings with defense ministers from Laos, Mongolia, Belarus, East Timor and Myanmar, according to state media. — Reuters