SINGAPORE — China’s newly appointed defense minister said Sunday Chinese fighter jets and naval vessels were responding to provocations close to China’s airspace and waters when carrying out maneuvers that have been branded dangerous or unprofessional.
Li Shangfu, who was named to his position in March, was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue here. The event, organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies – Asia, takes place annually on the first weekend of June.
During the question-and-answer session after his speech, Li was asked about the new report and video of a People’s Liberation Army Navy warship cutting across the bow of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Chung-hoon.
The footage was shot by a Canadian news crew who witnessed the event from a Canadian frigate accompanying the American destroyer as they transited through international waters along the Taiwan Strait on June 3
The maneuver was described at the dialogue by Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund, as “in contravention of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.”
However, Li said that the Canadian-U.S. voyage cannot be considered “innocent passage,” but was instead provocation. He questioned why foreign jets and naval vessels were operating so close to China and said foreign militaries should “mind your own business” closer to home.
The encounter at sea came eight days after the U.S. Department of Defense released video of a Chinese J-16 multirole fighter conducting what DoD called an “unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea by cutting across the latter’s flightpath.
The maneuver is known as “thumping,” in reference to the interceptor using its jetwash to temporarily disrupt the flight of the aircraft being intercepted with its wake turbulence.
Li declined to directly answer questions from delegates about the performance of the Russian military and equipment during the invasion of Ukraine, saying his recent focus has been on military diplomacy and that he has not been following the conflict from a combat standpoint.
Li used his speech to highlight China’s contributions to global security, such as its sending of peacekeepers to seven different conflict zones under the auspices of the United Nations and 139 naval vessels in 44 separate deployments for anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
He also commented on Taiwan issue, reiterating that the matter is an internal Chinese affair and accusing Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party of undermining regional stability by pushing for “incremental independence.”
Li criticized “some big power,” a reference to the United States, for repeatedly selling arms and providing military training assistance to the self-ruling island. He said China will not rule out using force to reunify Taiwan with the mainland.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.