Thursday, June 13

In Singapore, China Warns U.S. While Zelensky Seeks Support

The competing strains on U.S. global power came into sharp focus at a security conference on Sunday, where China accused the United States of stoking tensions around Taiwan and the South China Sea, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was seeking greater support for his embattled country.

These scenes played out at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum in Singapore that has long been a barometer of the ups and downs of U.S.-China relations.

This year, the United States Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and China’s defense minister, Adm. Dong Jun, held talks, something the top defense officials from the two countries have not always done at this gathering. But Admiral Dong made clear that China remained deeply antagonistic to U.S. influence and alliance-building across Asia, especially American support for Taiwan, the island democracy that Beijing claims as its territory.

“These malign intentions are drawing Taiwan to the dangers of war,” Admiral Dong told the meeting after making an oblique but unmistakable reference to U.S. military and political support for Taiwan. “Anyone who dares split Taiwan from China will be smashed to pieces and court their own destruction.”

Admiral Dong’s warnings, like other combative comments from Chinese military officers at the meeting, reflected how Beijing and Washington remain sharply divided over some fundamental regional issues, even as they discuss ways to keep military friction at sea and in the air from spiraling into crisis.

Last month, China held two days of menacing military exercises around Taiwan, accusing its new president, Lai Ching-te, of trying to advance independence for the island. Mr. Lai’s Democratic Progressive Party has asserted that Taiwan has a separate status, though Mr. Lai has indicated that he will not seek outright independence.

Mr. Austin warned in a speech on Saturday against “actions in this region that erode the status quo and threaten peace and stability,” an indirect reference to Chinese pressure on Taiwan. Mr. Austin also said “we all share an interest in ensuring that the South China Sea remains open and free,” despite Chinese territorial claims across the sea.

But Admiral Dong accused an unnamed Southeast Asian country — clearly the Philippines — of stirring up trouble over disputed islands and shoals in the sea, and again suggested that the United States was the real culprit.

“A certain country, incited by external forces, has abandoned bilateral agreements, broken its promises, and taken premeditated action to stir up incidents,” he said in his speech to diplomats, military officials and experts, many from Asian countries. “China has exercised sufficient restraint in responding to these provocations, but this restraint has its limits.”

The Philippines has been at odds with China over their rival claims in the South China Sea, in an area that Manila calls the West Philippine Sea. In 2016, an international tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea rejected China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, which included shoals near the Philippines. Beijing ignored that ruling.

At the meeting in Singapore, the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., warned on Friday that his government could call on support from the United States under a mutual defense treaty in the event that a Chinese vessel caused the death of a Philippine sailor.

A U.S. official who heard Admiral Dong’s speech took issue with his portrayal of China and its People’s Liberation Army as the innocent victim in regional disputes. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss geopolitical tensions, said the admiral’s assertion was at odds with the Chinese military’s “coercive activity” in the region.

Even in Singapore, Mr. Austin and other Western officials were also reminded that Ukraine’s more than two-year war against Russian invasion continues to demand their leaders’ attention and their taxpayers’ resources.

Mr. Zelensky was a last-minute addition to the gathering. He met on Sunday with Mr. Austin, who provided an update on U.S. security assistance, according to a Pentagon readout of the meeting, before Mr. Zelensky addressed the conference.

Faced with Russian military advances in his country, Mr. Zelensky has been urging the United States and Europe to step up support for his forces and overcome fears about letting Ukraine fire American missiles and other weapons at military targets inside Russia.

He was greeted with loud applause before delivering a 15-minute speech promoting a peace summit on Ukraine in Switzerland next month that he said officials from 106 countries had agreed to join. He appealed to leaders across the Indo-Pacific to support the gathering with their attendance or ideas.

“We are ready to hear various proposals and thoughts that lead not to the continuation of the war — and this is very important — but to the end,” he said. He added that only diplomacy with persistence would end the conflict.

“The world has to be resilient; it has to be strong; it has to put pressure on Russia,” he told the gathering. “There is no other way to stop Putin.”

Analysts said his appearance showed the increased interconnectedness among security issues worldwide.

“It’s a reminder to countries in Asia and the Indo-Pacific that the war taking place in Ukraine isn’t just a European problem. It’s a problem for the world,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“Zelensky recognizes that he has to go out and remind the world to continue to support the fight that his country is engaged in,” said Ms. Glaser, who was at the Singapore conference.

Mr. Zelensky said on social media that he also had met with U.S. Congress members at the gathering in Singapore, including Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, a Republican who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. Zelensky thanked him for helping win approval in April for additional military assistance for Ukraine, but also suggested more was needed.

“We talked about the frontline situation and military assistance, particularly additional systems and missiles to strengthen our air defense,” Mr. Zelensky said.