By SYAWALLUDIN ZAIN and DAVID RISING – Associated Press
SINGAPORE (AP) — China’s defense minister on Sunday accused the United States of trying to “hijack” support from countries in the Asia-Pacific region and turn them against Beijing, saying Washington was seeking to advance its own interests “under the guise of multilateralism”.
Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe hit out at US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, dismissing his ‘slanderous accusation’ the day before during the Shangri-La dialogue that China was causing instability with its claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan and its “destabilizing military activities” in the region.
Austin had stressed the need for multilateral partnerships with Indo-Pacific nations, which Wei said was an attempt to put China in a corner.
“No country should impose its will on others or bully others under the guise of multilateralism,” he said. “The strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo-Pacific to hijack countries in our region and target a specific country – it is a strategy to create conflicts and confrontations to contain and surround the others.”
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China is rapidly modernizing its military and seeking to expand its influence and ambitions in the region, recently signing a security deal with the Solomon Islands that many believe could lead to a Chinese naval base in the Pacific, and inaugurating last week a naval port expansion project in Cambodia that could allow Beijing to gain a foothold in the Gulf of Thailand.
Last year, US officials accused China of testing a hypersonic missile, a more difficult weapon for missile defense systems to counter, but China insisted it was a “test routine of a spacecraft”.
Responding to a question about the test on Sunday, Wei came the closest so far to acknowledging that it was indeed a hypersonic missile, saying, “When it comes to hypersonic weapons, many countries are developing weapons and I think it is not surprising that China does. .”
“China will develop its military,” he added. “I think it’s natural.”
Rising reported from Bangkok. Zen Soo in Hong Kong and Caroline Chen in Beijing contributed to this report.
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