May 20, 2019 / 3:24 PM / a year ago

China's defense minister to speak at key Asia defense forum in Singapore

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe salutes after addressing the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, China October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - China’s defense minister will speak at an Asia defense forum in Singapore, the organizer said on Monday, the first time in eight years that Beijing has been represented at this level at the gathering and at a time when China-U.S. ties are strained over trade and security.

Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will deliver a speech on June 2 at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the first time since 2011 that a Chinese defense minister will be at the forum, having in recent years sent lower level officials.

“In a highly anticipated speech, General Wei Fenghe will speak on China’s role in the Indo-Pacific at a pivotal time for the region,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a statement.

His speech will be scheduled a day after U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks to delegates at the May 31-June 2 gathering.

Tensions between China and the United States have intensified in the past year, both over an ongoing trade war and over the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

On Sunday, the United States sent warships close to the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China in the South China Sea, the latest in a series of “freedom of navigation operations” to anger Beijing.

Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee in Singapore; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Frances Kerry

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