U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper speaks during a press conference on the first day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 14, 2020.
U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper speaks during a press conference on the first day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 14, 2020.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged world security leaders Saturday to “wake up” to China’s efforts to influence world affairs, maintaining the world’s most populous country plans to achieve its goals by any means necessary.

"It is essential that we as an international community wake up to the challenges presented by Chinese manipulation of the long-standing international rules-based order," Esper declared at an international security conference in Munich.

Esper emphasized the U.S. does not seek conflict with China but voiced concern over what he said were China’s goals to modernize its military by 2035 and dominate Asia militarily by 2049.

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He accused China of increasingly involving itself in affairs in Europe and elsewhere outside its borders with the intent of “seeking advantage by any means and at any cost.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said later that Esper and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who accused China of using a “nefarious strategy” to win support for its next-generation wireless network equipment maker Huawei Technologies, of telling “lies.”

Pompeo said, “We can't let information go across networks that we don't have confidence won't be hijacked by the Chinese Communist Party. It's just unacceptable.”
Wang said “The U.S. does not want to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China” and would especially dislike “the success of a socialist country.” He also said it is “most important” for the two superpowers to begin talks to “find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Munich Security Conference that China presents both challenges and opportunities for the West. He said the U.S. and Europe must agree on a unified approach to address China’s increasing global influence.

Esper sought to garner European support for competitors to Huawei after Britain decided weeks ago to use Huawai’s 5G equipment. Britain’s decision dealt a blow to U.S. efforts to persuade allies to ban Huawei from their networks, claiming China could use the equipment for spying, an accusation Huawei and Chinese officials have denied.“

We are encouraging allied and U.S. tech companies to develop alternative 5G solutions and we are working alongside them to test these technologies at our military bases as we speak.”

Esper also discussed the war in Afghanistan, saying a U.S. deal with the Taliban that could result in the withdrawal of U.S. troops is not without risk but “looks very promising.”

Esper’s remarks came one day after a senior U.S. official said a seven-day “reduction in violence” agreement had been reached with the Taliban and that it would be formally announced soon.