A senior Chinese military officer has accused the United States’ top defence official of using sensitive issues like Taiwan and the South China Sea to promote instability in the Asia-Pacific region. Speaking on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Lieutenant General Shao Yuanming, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department, said that acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, in an earlier speech at the same event, had sent a “terribly wrong” message to independence-leaning forces on the self-ruled island. “The one-China principle is the political foundation of Sino-US relations and the common consensus in the international community,” Shao told a press conference. “[But] recent words and deeds released by the US side have sent terribly wrong signals to Taiwan’s independence forces, which could undermine regional peace and stability.” Any efforts to promote independence for Taiwan would face staunch opposition, he said. “China must be unified and the unification of China is inevitable … [it is] the collective will of the Chinese people. If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from the country, the Chinese military will resolutely defend the unity of our motherland at all costs.” Too much risk in Huawei’s ties to Chinese government, US defence chief says In his speech, Shanahan said the US would continue to support Taiwan’s efforts to defend itself, suggesting Washington had no plans to stop selling weapons to Taipei. Beijing has said repeatedly that Taiwan – which it considers a wayward province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary – is a thorn in its relationship with the US. Speaking of the threat to regional stability, Shanahan warned of “actors” that “undermine the system by using indirect, incremental actions and rhetorical devices to exploit others economically and diplomatically, and coerce them militarily”. “Behaviour that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end,” he said. “The US does not seek conflict, but we know that having the capability to win wars is the best way to deter them.” Shao said China welcomed the United States’ efforts to maintain a stable military-to-military relationship with the People’s Liberation Army, but opposed its so-called freedom of navigation operations in the air and at sea, which he said were an excuse to reconnoitre Chinese territory. “China has indisputable sovereignty of the islands, reefs and nearby sea territory in the South China Sea,” Shao said. “We have deployed necessary defence facilities in accordance with the security situation the islands and reefs are facing … in response to these provocative actions.” Just an hour after Shao’s press conference, three US senators from the House Armed Services Committee – Angus King, Tammy Duckworth and Marsha Blackburn – held a similar event at which they expressed Washington’s commitment to maintaining regional stability. “A stable, prosperous and free Indo-Pacific region is key to the interests of all nations,” Duckworth said. She urged Beijing to respect international rules and said the US “would stand against people who cheat”. Chinese defence chief warns US not to underestimate Beijing on Taiwan The senators also stressed the importance of maintaining peace through deterrence, with King going so far as to liken the situation in the region to the rise of the Nazis. “Deterrence is a necessary part of maintaining a peaceful world. Hitler could have been stopped in the mid-30s fairly easily by the countries of Europe, which did not have the stomach for confrontation.” he said. “To avoid war we need to prepare for war.” King said also that the prevailing global order had not been designed by the US but had instead evolved over millennia. “[These] aren’t things we made up. These are internationally recognised rules and norms that go back thousands of years,” he said. “‘Don’t lie, don’t steal’, those aren’t things Americans invented … We don’t want to gain territory but we do want to preserve freedom of navigation.” Blackburn said that many countries welcomed the United States’ engagement in the region, saying US officials had held bilateral meetings with their counterparts from South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. As defence officials from the US and across Asia continued their discussions and negotiations in Singapore, maritime authorities in Hainan said the PLA Navy would on Sunday begin a three-day naval exercise in waters off the south China province.