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China calls U.S. a ‘bully,’ vows to ‘fight to the end’ for Taiwan

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe heads to a plenary session during the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 12. (Caroline Chia/Reuters)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China’s defense minister called Washington a “bully” and vowed to “fight to the end” to take over Taiwan, ramping up a war of words with his U.S. counterpart.

In a combative and wide-ranging speech on Sunday at an annual defense conference in Singapore, Gen. Wei Fenghe repeatedly accused Washington of what he described as “interference” in China’s internal affairs, including over the issue of Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“Some people in the U.S. try to suppress China on all fronts. If you want confrontation, we will fight to the end,” Wei said at the Shangri-La Dialogue. “If someone forces a war on China, the military will not flinch.”

His comments were part of a broader rebuttal to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said in a speech at the conference a day earlier that Washington would counter Beijing’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Wei’s remarks, meant to be an outline of Beijing’s vision for regional order, took direct aim at the United States.

“The People’s Liberation Army has fought many powerful adversaries and won many victories. We do not provoke trouble, but we will not flinch in the face of provocation. We will not bully others, but we will not allow others to bully us,” he said.

Claiming that Beijing promotes cooperation and that its military development is only for defensive capabilities, Wei said: “China will not be the bully. We are all clear-eyed who is the bully.”

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Beijing claims Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy it regards as a province of China. For years, Beijing has vowed to achieve what it calls “reunification” and has threatened a takeover with military force if necessary.

“Let me be clear: If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight. We will fight at all costs, and we will fight to the very end,” he said.

Wei said China’s role as an emerging power should not be seen as a threat. “China’s development is a historical trend. It is neither possible nor sensible to try to stop it,” he said.

Austin and Wei met for the first time Friday in Singapore, and both agreed on the importance of communication and reducing risk, which was seen as an indication that the temperature of the rivalry had been dialed down.

Calling for a “healthy and stable major-country relationship,” Wei told Austin that the two countries should not allow their differences to escalate, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

The Defense Department said Austin “discussed the need to responsibly manage competition and maintain open lines of communication.”

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Eva Dou and Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Shenzhen, China, contributed to this report.