Zelenskiy’s Surprise Appearance at Asia’s Top Security Forum Overshadows China-Taiwan Tensions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made an unexpected appearance at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security conference, on Sunday, capturing the spotlight as China’s defence chief criticized Taiwan’s “separatists,” prompting a sharp rebuke from Taipei.

Wearing his signature olive green T-shirt, Zelenskiy addressed delegates in Singapore, urging global support for a peace summit in Switzerland later this month to address the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. “We are convinced that our world wants to be united and be capable of acting in complete harmony,” he declared to a room filled with military officials and diplomats.

Zelenskiy’s appearance, reported first by Reuters, marked his second visit to Asia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. He expressed disappointment at not being able to meet the Chinese delegation and accused Beijing of discouraging countries from attending the upcoming peace summit. “China, unfortunately… is working for countries not to come to the peace summit,” he lamented.

Earlier, Chinese Defence Minister Dong Jun warned that the chances of a peaceful reunification with Taiwan were dwindling and vowed to prevent the island from achieving independence. China considers Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, as part of its territory and reacted angrily to the inauguration of Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te, labeling him a “separatist.”

“Those separatists recently made fanatical statements that show their betrayal of the Chinese nation and their ancestors. They will be nailed to the pillar of shame in history,” Dong asserted. He emphasized that while China seeks peaceful reunification, the People’s Liberation Army will remain a formidable force in ensuring national unity.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council responded, denouncing Dong’s remarks as “provocative and irrational,” and reiterated that the People’s Republic of China has never governed Taiwan. The council accused China of repeatedly threatening force against Taiwan, actions that violate the United Nations charter.

A U.S. official, speaking anonymously, noted that Dong’s speech echoed previous Chinese defense ministers’ rhetoric, which often contradicts the PLA’s coercive actions in the region. “Every year for three years, a new Chinese defence minister has come to Shangri-La,” the official stated. “And every year, they’ve given a speech at complete odds with the reality of the PLA’s coercive activity across the region. This year was no different.”

Dong’s address followed U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s speech, where he reaffirmed the Indo-Pacific region’s importance to U.S. security interests amidst the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. “Let me be clear: The United States can be secure only if Asia is secure,” Austin asserted. “That’s why the United States has long maintained our presence in this region.”

The Shangri-La Dialogue also featured a private meeting between Dong and Austin, marking their first face-to-face encounter on the conference’s sidelines, indicating ongoing diplomatic engagements despite rising tensions.

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