US defence secretary condemns China hypersonic missile tests

Lloyd Austin says tests increase regional tension, as US pledges continued military support for South Korea.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (centre right) and South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook (centre left) held their first military talks since Joe Biden became US president in January [Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo]

The US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region”, promising that the United States would maintain its capability to deter potential threats posed by China.

Austin made the remarks in Seoul on Thursday following annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart that focused on challenges from China and North Korea and other issues facing the allies.

“We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue. Again, the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the region,” Austin said referring to hypersonic weapons tests that were carried out in July and August, and using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.

“It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge,” Austin added. “We’ll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies.”

China’s growing military muscle and its drive to end American predominance in the Asia Pacific have triggered unease in Washington, which has also been developing advanced weaponry.

China has denied testing hypersonic missiles and says the tests involved a reusable space vehicle.

Austin and US Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in Seoul for the first annual military talks with South Korean officials since US President Joe Biden took office in January, and the last before South Korean President Moon Jae-in leaves office in May.

Austin and his South Korean counterpart Suh Wook also discussed North Korea.

Protesters gathered outside the Defense Ministry in Seoul as the annual talks, took place. The  placards  read ‘Dismantle the Combined Forces Command’ and ‘Return the Operational Control immediately’ [Lee Jin-man/AP Photo]

The two agreed that Pyongyang’s continuing development of new missiles and weapons was “increasingly destabilising regional security,” but stressed they remained committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea.

Suh said the allies share an understanding that “diplomacy and dialogue based on previous commitments between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States is essential for achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula”.

Despite severe pandemic-related economic hardships, Pyongyang has repeatedly rebuffed the US’s offers to resume talks, saying Washington must first abandon its hostility towards the North. The Biden administration maintains that international sanctions on North Korea will stay in place unless the country takes concrete steps towards denuclearisation.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon released a global posture review that calls for additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea,” including a previously announced decision to permanently base an attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.

The allies’ military chiefs said they plan to update contingency war plans and review their combined military command.

The US stations approximately 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice but not a peace treaty.

Currently, the United States would command those troops in the event of war, but South Korea has been seeking to gain “operational control” (OPCON).

Suh said the two sides made progress on meeting conditions for OPCON transfer to South Korea.

The US has pledged to maintain the current level of US troops in South Korea, he added.

Source: News Agencies