SINGAPORE – Europe emerged as a key interlocutor with Beijing on Sunday when British, German and European security policy chiefs managed to meet with China’s new Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who declined to go further than a handshake with its US counterpart, Lloyd Austin.
In addition to delivering a keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Li also held bilateral meetings with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, marking the his first contacts with his European counterparts since he was promoted to minister in March.
Beijing refused a meeting between Li and Austin due to Washington’s personal sanctions against the Chinese official. Li also declined a meeting with Canada’s Anita Anand, two Western diplomats told POLITICO, amid weekend reports that US and Canadian warships crossed the Taiwan Strait together, a rare move, which prompted the Chinese navy to approach within 150 yards.
Instead, China agreed to let Li meet with Europeans on the sidelines of the main Asian security forum, even if the mood was fractious at times.
German Pistorius was forced to raise a sensitive issue: that of China secretly employing German fighter pilots to train their own.
Constructive discussion with #China‘s Defense Minister Li Shangfu a #SLD23 on common strategic concerns, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, Taiwan, the South China Sea.
Looking forward to continue developing EU-China relationship based on trust and respect for international law pic.twitter.com/e5UTQfg3qu
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) June 4, 2023
« I have made it clear that I expect this policy to be stopped immediately, » Pistorius told reporters after the meeting in Singapore. He added that China’s defense minister did not deny the practice of hiring former German military pilots, but downplayed its importance. Reuters reported.
The matter became important again after the German news magazine spiegel published an article on the subject around the summit. According to a diplomat briefed on the matter, the Chinese have responded by saying Beijing « doesn’t need » to use German pilots because it has the skills to do their own training.
Borrell of the EU, meanwhile, described his meeting with Li as « constructive » and said in a tweets which touched on « common strategic concerns, including Russia’s war against Ukraine, Taiwan, the South China Sea ». He added that the EU looks forward to « continuing to develop EU-China relations based on trust and respect for international law ». Borrell could not be reached for further comment on the bout.
Borrell’s social media message took on a cordial tone just hours after Li made his Shangri-La debut in a direct warning against the United States and allies for getting too close to China. The Chinese official also promised to take back Taiwan without « fearing any adversary and regardless of the cost ».
Li also criticized « extra-regional countries » for sending warships to the South China Sea « in an attempt to make trouble. »
In addition to the United States and Canada, EU countries also plan to send vessels to the Indo-Pacific region. Germany to send two warships to region next year, Pistorius said in Singapore, according to Reuters relationship. Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told POLITICO that his government will also send a ship to the Indo-Pacific next year, although the exact route remains to be determined.
Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said in an interview with POLITICO and other media in Singapore, « We are concerned about Chinese actions in the Taiwan Strait, » adding that Beijing should « cool down any kind of belligerent behavior. »