US Defense Secretary: China has become more “coercive and aggressive”

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday the United States will do its part to manage tensions with China and prevent conflict, even as Beijing has become more aggressive in the Asian region, including near Taiwan.

Relations between China and the United States have been strained in recent months, with the world’s two largest economies clashing over everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military activity in the South China Sea.

In a meeting between Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fengyi on Friday, the two sides emphasized that they wished to better manage their relationship although there was no sign of any breakthrough in resolving differences. Read more

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Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s main security gathering, Austin said the United States would continue to stand by its allies, including Taiwan.

“This is especially important because the People’s Republic of China (People’s Republic of China) is adopting a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims,” ​​he said.

China claims that self-governing Taiwan is its own Taiwan and has vowed to take it by force if necessary.

Austin said there has been an “alarming” increase in the number of unsafe and unprofessional encounters between Chinese aircraft and ships with those in other countries.

A Chinese fighter jet dangerously intercepted an Australian military reconnaissance plane in the South China Sea in May and the Canadian military accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its patrol planes while monitoring North Korean sanctions evasion operations.

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Taiwan has complained for years about the Chinese air force’s repeated missions in the Air Defense Identification Zone, which is not a regional airspace but a broader area that it monitors for threats. Austin said these raids have escalated in recent months.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry thanked the United States on Friday for its support and denounced China’s “ridiculous” claims to sovereignty.

Austin said US policy on Taiwan is to continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.

“Our policy hasn’t changed,” Austin said. “But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem right for the People’s Republic of China.”

But he added, “We will do our part to responsibly manage these tensions, prevent conflict, and pursue peace and prosperity.”

Later on Saturday, Lieutenant General Zhang Zhenzhong, deputy chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Chinese Central Military Commission, called Austin’s speech a “confrontational”.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before the Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee in Washington, US, May 3, 2022. Win McNamee/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

“There have been many baseless accusations against China, and we express our strong dissatisfaction and strong opposition to these false accusations,” Zhang said. “The United States is trying to form a small circle in the Asia-Pacific region by pulling some countries to incite against some other countries.”

Austin’s meeting with Wei focused largely on Taiwan.

“Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is not just an American interest, it is an international affair,” Austin said.

No Asian NATO

In a speech focused on the US commitment to the region, Austin said the US would maintain a presence in Asia but Washington understood the need to prevent conflict.

“We do not seek confrontation or conflict. We do not seek a new Cold War, an Asian NATO, or a region divided into hostile blocs,” he said.

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Austin also noted the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been a priority in Washington and other Western capitals over the past three months.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the bases that protect us all,” Austin said. “It’s a preview of a potential world of chaos and turmoil that none of us want to live in.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to address the Shangri-La Dialogue in a virtual session later on Saturday.

Earlier this year, Washington said China appeared ready to help Russia in its war against Ukraine.

But since then, US officials have said that while they remain concerned about China’s longstanding support for Russia in general, the military and economic support they worried about has not materialized, at least for the time being.

In a separate speech on Saturday, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said military cooperation between China and Russia has heightened security concerns in the region. Read more

“The joint military operations between these two powerful military forces will undoubtedly increase the anxiety among other countries,” he said.

(This story corrects the speaker’s title in paragraph 15.)

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(Reports) By Idris Ali and Lin Chen; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Jerry Doyle

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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