Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe, right, arrives for the opening dinner of the 18th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, in Singapore. File photo: AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim.

Kuala Lumpur - China is prepared to hold dialogue with the United States on the escalating trade war, but will fight if needed, its top defence official said on Sunday.

"On the trade friction started by the US: if the US wants to talk, we will keep the door open," Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said during a three-day international security dialogue in Singapore. "If they want to fight, we will fight to the end."

Wei, dressed in the green People's Liberation Army uniform, was speaking at the podium of the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, which has seen top defence representatives converge on the city-state to discuss security issues until Sunday.

Wei's comments come amidst a backdrop of heightened tensions between the two superpowers, marked by a blistering trade war, accusations of growing Chinese militarization of the disputed South China Sea, and allegations of US interference in self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

Beijing asserts that Washington is solely to blame for the trade war, in a white paper released on Sunday.

"China does not want a trade war, but it is not afraid of one and it will fight one if necessary," it says, while also repeating that the country is willing to negotiate.

"During consultations, a country's sovereignty and dignity must be respected, and any agreement reached by the two sides must be based on equality and mutual benefit," the text reads.

Talks between Washington and Beijing on trade broke down last month, resulting in a hike in tariffs on 200 billion dollars' worth of Chinese goods. China has fired back with tariffs on 60 billion dollars of goods from the US. 

China has also threatened to choke the supply of rare earths to the US, a vital component in many electronic devices.

And on Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that Chinese authorities had launched an investigation into US courier service FedEx after it diverted several packages sent by Huawei to the United States.

Huawei has become a central pawn in the conflict. The US accuses the Chinese tech firm of stealing trade secrets, attempting to breach Iran sanctions and facilitating the Chinese government's spying. It has not shown evidence to back the spying accusation.

Adding to the tensions, Washington has also been increasingly frustrated with efforts to halt Chinese militarization in the disputed South China Sea, despite frequent freedom-of-navigation patrols led by the US.

The maritime corridor - which faces competing claims by five other countries - is regarded as highly strategic, as trillions of goods pass through it annually and is abundant in fisheries and oil and gas reserves. 

"It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state to carry out construction on its own territory," Wei said in Singapore. "China builds limited defence facilities on the islands and reefs for self-defence."

Wei also hit out against US support for Taiwan, saying "no attempts to split China will succeed."

"Any foreign interference in the Taiwan question is doomed to failure," he said, warning that while China would strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification, "we make no promise to renounce the use of force."

Wei's address comes a day after a speech by US Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan, which denounced China for using a "toolkit of coercion" that "erodes other nations' sovereignty and sows distrust of China's intentions."

dpa