A potential flashpoint is Taiwan, a self-ruled island which Beijing considers to be Chinese territory that one day will be “reunited” with the mainland. This is a major source of tension between the US and China.
Beijing also claims control of nearly the entire South China Sea, despite an international tribunal ruling that it has no legal basis for most of its claims.
On Saturday, as the forum was underway, the US Indo-Pacific Command announced that a US naval destroyer, the USS Chung-Hoon, was forced to change course to avoid a collision with a Chinese Navy ship during its passage through the Taiwan Strait between China and Taiwan.
China rejects US meeting, sits down with Europe
China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu warned the forum that any attempt to separate Taiwan from China would be met by a military response without “fearing any adversaries, and regardless of the cost.”
Li also bemoaned countries from outside the region “attempting to stir up troubles” by sending their warships on freedom-of-navigation exercises in the South China Sea, where Beijing contests territory with several Southeast Asian nations.
Beijing claims control of nearly the entire South China Sea, despite an international tribunal ruling that it has no legal basis for most of its claims.
Although Li did not meet with his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, the Chinese official did sit down for discussions with European officials, including Borrell and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.
The EU foreign policy chief later described the meeting as “constructive” and tweeted that Brussels wants to “continue to develop EU-China relations based on trust and respect of international law.”
Borrell also said at the forum that the EU would do more to engage with countries in the region to help preserve stability.
During his address, Borrell stressed that although the EU has maintained a light-touch approach in the past on security issues, he vowed Brussels intends to exert more effort to maintain peace in the region. “You can count on us,” he said.
“Engagement is increasing slowly but surely, albeit from a very low starting point,” said Felix Heiduk, senior associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
In Southeast Asia, surveys of “elite” opinion in the region show that the EU is well-trusted to uphold international law and as a security partner, according to the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.