Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe delivers a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 8th Beijing Xiangshan Forum in October, 2018. (File photo: People's Daily)
The Chinese defense minister will speak at an annual international defense forum in Singapore, marking the first time in eight years for China to send a defense minister to the forum at the end of this month.
Chinese experts said the decision shows China is sincere in maintaining communication with the US despite the tense atmosphere of the bilateral trade relationship, and delivers a clear message to the world that China is confident in promoting its own views on international security.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which organizes the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, said in a statement on its website on Monday that it is delighted to announce that General Wei Fenghe, State Councillor and Minister of National Defence, "will deliver a 'highly anticipated' speech at the upcoming IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2019 on the morning of June 2."
Wei will speak on China's position in the Indo-Pacific region and will take questions following his speech, the IISS said. The forum will take place from May 31 to June 2 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore.
An Gang, a senior research fellow at the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based think tank, told the Global Times on Tuesday that "the backdrop of this year's forum is the worsening China-US relationship, and the US is clearly executing a strategy to comprehensively compete with China."
Washington will definitely ramp up its accusations and attacks against China at different international forums, An noted.
"The more accusations the US makes, the more necessary for China to respond and engage, and the more chances for China to promote its own views to win support. This is why China decided to send its defense minister with a huge People's Liberation Army (PLA) delegation," An said.
US Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will also speak on June 1, a day ahead of Wei's speech, the IISS statement said.
The Shangri-La Dialogue favors the US, but China is still willing to send a senior official to attend, so this shows that China is sincere in maintaining communication with the US despite a tense bilateral relationship, Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
A military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday that "sending the defense minister to the forum is not necessarily connected with the current China-US relationship," since this is not the first time that China has sent senior military leaders to the forum.
Considering the current China-US relationship, it would not be surprising at all if the meeting between Chinese and US military delegations don't take place in Singapore, and if they meet, we should not have very high expectations, the expert said.
Neither the Chinese Defense Ministry nor Pentagon has confirmed whether a meeting between Wei and Shanahan would take place.
"Topics like the South China Sea, Taiwan and the PLA presence in the Indian Ocean could be covered," Xu said.
But China doesn't need to be worried, because attendees of other countries won't follow the US too closely this time, and many will stay neutral, according to Xu.
"Look at the case of Huawei. Many US allies such as the UK and France are not following the instructions of Washington DC anymore," he said.
The IISS Shangri-La Dialogue is an annual Asia defense forum, where ministers, military chiefs and leaders from the region and beyond engage in open debate and bilateral talks aimed at enhancing their collaboration in response to the diverse security problems. The first forum was held in 2007, and China sent its defense minister to the forum in 2011 for the first time