This past weekend at the 20th annual Shangri-la Dialogue security forum in Singapore, China's defense minister, Li Shangfu, argued that the lack of mutual respect and continued provocation by the U.S. (and its allies such as Japan) was the basis for not meeting his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and the negative spiral in bilateral relations.

The defense minister did not parse his words. He openly questioned the U.S. presence in “Chinese waters" and "airspace." He stressed in the context of recent air and sea near-miss incidents that the best way to prevent such events from happening was for U.S. and other military vessels and aircraft to stay clear of the areas in question.

Seen in the context of China’s track record of expansionism, economic coercion, gray zone operations and lawfare tactics in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as Chinese counter accusations of aggressive moves by the U.S. and its allies, there are many inconvenient truths to explore.