US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin accused China of stepping up its coercive behavior towards Taiwan, stressing that Washington would maintain its military capacity to resist any force threatening the country.
Speaking at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue defense forum in Singapore, Austin said China was engaging in provocative behavior in the Indo-Pacific region, ranging from dangerous naval and air maneuvers to increasing military activity. asserted around Taiwan.
“We have witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,” Austin said on Saturday. “This includes PLA planes flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months.
Addressing an audience including General Wei Fenghe, China’s defense minister, Austin said there had been an “alarming increase” in dangerous aerial interceptions and clashes at sea by Chinese military ships and aircraft.
Austin referenced recent incidents in which Chinese Air Force fighter jets made “dangerous interceptions” in the South China Sea and East China Sea of aircraft flown by allies Americans – in reference to Australia and Canada.
Speaking several weeks after President Joe Biden said in Tokyo that the United States would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan from any Chinese attack, Austin said Washington would abide by the Taiwan Relations Act by ensuring that Taiwan maintains a capacity for sufficient defense.
“And that means maintaining our own ability to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan,” he added.
Austin stressed that US policy toward Taiwan has not changed, and the administration remains opposed to any unilateral change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait — from Taipei or Beijing.
His comments come as US officials grow increasingly concerned about the Chinese threat to Taiwan, a country over which China claims sovereignty.
Austin used his speech to highlight the Biden administration’s efforts to strengthen cooperation with its allies, including the Quad – a security group that includes the United States, Japan, Australia and India – and the Aukus security pact agreed to by the US, UK and Australia last year.
Paul Haenle, director of Carnegie China, a think tank, said Austin’s speech ‘hit the right balance’, noting that the US Secretary of Defense said US policy towards Taiwan had not changed. while “emphasizing that key elements of this policy are helping Taiwan maintain sufficient self-defense capability and maintaining robust American capability to resist any use of force by China.”
Austin spoke a day after meeting Wei, in what was the first high-level meeting between the military since Joe Biden took office.
A Chinese defense ministry spokesman said the meeting was “frank, positive and constructive”. A senior US defense official said ministers spent most of the meeting discussing Taiwan. The US official said Austin raised concerns that the Chinese military might try to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait “through its operational behavior”.
Overall, Chinese military officials have attempted to play down tensions with the United States. Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences said Austin’s remarks were “on the diplomatic side” after the defense secretary evaded a question about how the United States and its allies could deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
But other Chinese officials have expressed intense displeasure. “The United States always says one thing but does another,” said Major General Guo Ruobing, commandant of the National Security College at the National Defense University.
Austin said the United States was not looking for a new Cold War, an Asian NATO – in reference to Chinese critics of the Quad – or a region divided into hostile blocs. But Guo said the United States was creating small, exclusive circles and blocs. “Look at the Quad, look at Aukus,” he told the Financial Times.
Guo also dismissed Austin’s criticism of Chinese interceptions of Australian and Canadian military aircraft. “They are the ones who disrupt the stability,” he said. Washington has repeatedly dismissed Chinese criticism, pointing out that its planes fly in international airspace.
Austin outlined three areas where the United States was working more closely with its allies, including sharing research and development to ensure it had the right capabilities to deter aggression and stepping up exercises and training. .
He added that the US Coast Guard was strengthening its presence in the Indo-Pacific, a change exemplified by the fact that Admiral Linda Fagan was the first Coast Guard commander to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue.