Chinese officials on Sunday dismissed accusations of "bullying" made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and accused the U.S. of fueling Taiwan separatist activities as tensions between the superpowers continued to rise.
Lt. Gen. Jing Jianfeng also accused the U.S. of increasing the quantity and capability of weapons sold to Taiwan, frequently sending warships and warplanes to sail through the Taiwan Strait and bringing other countries to meddle in the Taiwan question.
"The military countermeasures we have organized around the Taiwan Strait are aimed at the separatist activities of 'Taiwan independence' and the interference of external force," Jing said at a gathering of top defense officials in Singapore. "This is justified and beyond reproach."
Later Sunday, China’s defense minister defended sailing a warship across the path of an American destroyer and Canadian frigate passing through the Taiwan Strait, saying Western “freedom of navigation” patrols are a provocation.
Gen. Li Shangfu said China doesn’t have any problems with “innocent passage” but that “we must prevent attempts that try to use those freedoms of navigation ... to exercise hegemony of navigation.”
◾Austin told the gathering the U.S. would continue regularly sailing through and flying over the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to emphasize they are international waters, countering Beijing’s sweeping territorial claims.
◾Li is under American sanctions that are part of a broad package of measures against Russia – but predate its invasion of Ukraine – that were imposed in 2018 over Li’s involvement in China’s purchase of combat aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles from Moscow.
◾Li suggested the U.S. and its allies had created the danger, and should focus on taking “good care of your own territorial airspace and waters.”
Li accused US of escalating tensions
Li accused NATO of trying to hold countries in the region hostage while playing up conflict and confrontation. Such attempts will only plunge the region into a division, disputes and conflicts, escalating tension and destabilizing the region.
"Today what Asia-Pacific needs are big pies of open and inclusive cooperation, not small cliques that are self-serving and exclusive," he said.
How we got here
Taiwan has been self-governing since 1949, but Beijing views the island as part of its territory. Beijing has vowed to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland and has not ruled out using force. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's party platform favors independence, and he has rebuked Beijing’s efforts to undermine democracy. That led Beijing to ramp up up political and military pressure on Taipei. Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit in 2022 further heightened tensions.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Taiwan: China denies 'bullying,' accuses US of dangerous provocations