United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has reiterated that the US will stand by its allies and partners in the Asia Pacific as he accused China of “provocative and destabilising” military activity around Taiwan, and an increasingly “coercive and aggressive” approach to its wide-ranging maritime claims in the Asia Pacific.
In a nearly hour-long address to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin stressed that the US was committed to the “rules-based international order” and would work in partnership to maintain peace and stability in the region.
He said that the US policy over Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own, remained the same.
“Our policy hasn’t changed,” he told delegates at the security forum. “But unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be the same for the PRC [People’s Republic of China].
“The PRC moves threaten to undermine peace and stability. That isn’t just a US interest, it’s a matter of international concern.”
Austin’s comments came a day after he had his first face-to-face talks with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, in which Wei reiterated China’s willingness to go to war to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent.
Beijing has increased its military activities around the island in recent years, regularly sending sorties into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, including 30 planes at the end of May.
Austin also reiterated concern about Beijing’s increasingly assertive approach in the East China Sea and South China Sea — areas where he said Beijing was being more “coercive and aggressive” in its determination to push forward its maritime claims.
He stressed that the US would maintain its “active presence” across the Asia Pacific.
“We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will do this alongside our partners.”
“Let me be clear, we do not seek confrontation or conflict,” he added.
“We do not seek a new Cold War, an Asian NATO or a region split into hostile blocs… [but] we will defend our interests without flinching.”