SINGAPORE: Despite Beijing’s rising aggression in the Asian area, notably near Taiwan, the US will do its bit to manage tensions with China and prevent conflict, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday (Jun 11).
China-US relations have been strained in recent months, with the world’s two largest economies sparring over issues ranging from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military action in the South China Sea.
Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe met on Friday, and both sides restated their desire to improve their relationship, while there was little hint of a breakthrough in addressing disputes.
Austin told the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s largest security meeting, that the US would continue to support its allies, including Taiwan.
“This is especially crucial as the PRC (People’s Republic of China) pursues more coercive and belligerent territorial claims,” he stated.
China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has threatened to invade it militarily if necessary.
According to Austin, there has been a “alarming” increase in the incidence of unsafe and unprofessional collisions between Chinese planes and boats and those of other countries.
In May, a Chinese fighter plane dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane over the South China Sea, and Canada’s military has accused Chinese planes of harassing its patrol planes as they monitor North Korean sanction evasion.
Taiwan has long complained about repeated Chinese air force sorties into its air defense identification zone, which is not territorial airspace but a larger area where threats are monitored. According to Austin, these invasions have increased in recent months.
On Friday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry praised the US for its assistance and condemned China’s “absurd” claims of sovereignty.
Austin stated that the US would continue to oppose any unilateral alterations to the status quo in Taiwan.
“Our policy remains unchanged. Unfortunately, such does not appear to be the case in the PRC “Austin stated.
However, he added: “We’ll do our part to manage these tensions responsibly, to prevent conflict, and to pursue peace and prosperity.”
Later that day, Lt Gen Zhang Zhenzhong, Vice Chief of China’s Central Military Commission’s joint staff department, dubbed Austin’s statement a “confrontation.”
“Many unjustified charges were leveled against China; we conveyed our strong unhappiness and resolute rejection to these misleading claims,” Zhang said. “The US is attempting to establish a tiny circle in the Asia Pacific region by enlisting some countries to stir against others.”
Austin and Wei’s meeting was primarily on Taiwan.
“Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is important for more than just the United States. It is an issue of worldwide concern “Austin stated.
NO ASIAN NATO
In a speech focusing on the US commitment to the region, Austin stated that the US would maintain its presence in Asia, but that Washington recognized the importance of conflict prevention.
“We are not looking for confrontation or strife. And we are not looking for a new Cold War, an Asian NATO, or a region divided into antagonistic blocs “he continued.
Austin also mentioned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been a top issue for Washington and other Western capitals in the last three months.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what occurs when oppressors disregard the laws that protect us all,” Austin explained. “It’s a foreshadowing of a potentially chaotic and turbulent future that none of us would want to live in.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was set to speak at the Shangri-La Dialogue in a virtual session later Saturday.
Earlier this year, Washington stated that China appeared to be ready to assist Russia in its conflict with Ukraine.
However, US officials have stated that, while they remain concerned about China’s long-standing support for Russia in general, the military and economic backing that they were concerned about has not materialized, at least for the time being.
In a separate speech on Saturday, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi stated that military cooperation between China and Russia has heightened regional security worries.
“Joint military activities between these two powerful military powers would likely raise concerns in other countries,” he said.