MELBOURNE, Australia — China’s defense minister is scheduled to speak at a regional security summit in Singapore next month, marking the first time in almost a decade it will have sent a high-ranking official to the annual event.
According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, Gen. Wei Fenghe, China’s minister of national defense of China and state councillor, will deliver a speech on China’s place in the Indo-Pacific region at the Shangri-la Dialogue, which is organised by IISS—Asia in Singapore.
Wei is expected to take questions from the audience directly following his address, which will take place the morning of June 2.
IISS Director-General John Chipman welcomed Wei’s presence at the Shangri-la Dialogue, calling his upcoming speech “highly anticipated” and adding that it “provides a unique opportunity for those in attendance to engage with a leading figure within the [People’s Liberation Army].”
Also due to speak at the event is U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who will deliver his speech June 1. Numerous European and Asian defense ministers will address other plenaries June 1-2, while Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, will deliver the keynote speech May 31.
Wei, who will lead China’s delegation at the event, would be the most senior Chinese delegate to attend the Shangri-la Dialogue in eight years. The country in recent years sent lower-ranking officials to the event, who tended to stick tightly to their prepared speeches and avoid directly answering questions from other delegates.
The news that Wei will attend the summit comes as Sino-U.S. relations strain under an ongoing trade war, security concerns over Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and China’s military activities in the South China Sea.
On Sunday, the U.S. Navy destroyer Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea “in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” according to Cmdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Japan-based 7th Fleet.
That was the second time this month that a U.S. Navy ship mounted such a challenge to China’s maritime claims, which is an unusual occurrence given that such operations have historically been carried out once per month or once every two months.