Chinese and Russian military officials lambasted the United States as a catalyst of worldwide instability during the Beijing Xiangshan Forum on Monday. The gathering, which has emerged as China’s paramount annual military diplomacy event, saw heated remarks from Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu. He warned of dire ramifications due to Western involvement in the Ukraine conflict. Highlighting the gravity of the situation, Shoigu mentioned, “The Western policy 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,” as quoted by Russia’s TASS state news agency.
Parallelly, Zhang Youxia, China’s second-highest-ranked military official and vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, took veiled digs at the United States. Zhang expressed concerns about certain nations causing disruptions and meddling in the internal matters of other countries. However, reflecting a duality in his address, Zhang also articulated China’s willingness to enhance military relations with the U.S. based on mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation. He stated, “We will deepen strategic cooperation and coordination with Russia and are willing to develop military ties with the U.S.” Russia’s TASS state news agency reported that Zhang held a separate meeting with Shoigu on the forum’s sidelines, underscoring the tight-knit relationship between China and Russia.
The backdrop of the Xiangshan Forum
The Beijing summit, as conveyed by state media, united delegations from over 100 countries. Wan Qingsong, an associate professor at the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, remarked that the event served as a secondary battleground for Russia and the United States. He emphasized that the intent behind this platform was to influence public sentiment in Global South nations and curtail changes that might adversely affect Russia.
A noticeable absence at the forum was China’s defense minister. The recent minister, Li Shangfu, had been unexpectedly dismissed the previous week following a two-month hiatus without any public reasoning. Li had been facing U.S. sanctions since 2018 due to Beijing’s acquisition of Russian defense equipment.
U.S. Representation at the Forum
The U.S. was represented by Cynthia Xanthi Carras, the China Country Director within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, at the forum. There were reports that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had been invited, but Carras led the U.S.’s representation. Emphasizing the criticality of U.S. presence, Chad Sbragia, the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China said “Being here and being vigilant is crucial for us. We can’t afford to surrender our position to others.”
Focal Points and Controversies
The forum’s absence of a Chinese defense minister became a significant talking point. Li Shangfu’s recent dismissal without elucidation and the subsequent void in the position drew international attention.
- A critical issue that remained non-negotiable was Taiwan. Beijing firmly considers Taiwan to be an intrinsic part of its territory. Zhang underlined Taiwan as a “core interest” for China, cautioning nations against instigating sensitive matters.
- Lt. Gen. He Lei was unequivocal about China’s stance on Taiwan, emphasizing that if China were compelled to exert force against Taiwan, it would be perceived as a “war of reunification, legitimacy, and justice.”
Impending U.S.-China Summit
Even with the ongoing disputes and clear-cut crits at the forum, it looks like the U.S. and China are striving to improve dialogue. The American group’s active involvement in the Xiangshan Forum might be seen as a sign of things to come, leading up to an expected meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping. Last week’s interaction between China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and Biden has been dubbed by the White House as a “productive chance” to ensure open dialogue channels between the two global giants.
In conclusion, while the Xiangshan Forum was a stage for voicing concerns and criticisms, it also highlighted the underlying need for improved ties and open channels of communication between major global powers.