SINGAPORE — US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin vowed on Saturday that Washington would not tolerate any “coercion and intimidation” of its allies and partners by China, while assuring Beijing that the United States remained committed to maintaining the status quo. quo in Taiwan and would prefer dialogue on the conflict.
Speaking at the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum of top defense officials, diplomats and leaders, Austin pushed to support Washington’s vision of a “free, open Indo-Pacific and secure in a world of rules and rights”. as the best way to counter growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.
The United States has expanded its own activities around the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s sweeping territorial claims, including regularly sailing and overflying the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
“We are committed to ensuring that every country can fly, navigate and operate where international law permits,” he said. “And every country, big or small, must remain free to conduct lawful maritime activities.”
Austin noted that the United States provided millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the height of the pandemic and is regularly involved in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance efforts in the region. He said he was working to tackle climate change, illegal fishing and ensure supply chains were not disrupted – ticking many important issues for Asia-Pacific countries .
“We are doubling down on our alliances and partnerships,” he said.
He said the United States was also determined to deter North Korea’s missile threat and China’s claims to Taiwan, a self-governing island democracy that Beijing says is its territory, and said Washington had intensified defense planning, coordination and training with partner nations in the region.
“To be clear, we are not looking for conflict or confrontation,” he said. “But we will not flinch in the face of intimidation or coercion.”
Austin said the United States remains “deeply committed” to the long-standing one-China policy, which recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows informal relations with Taiwan, and continues to “categorically oppose unilateral changes to the status quo on either side”.
He added that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had served to underline how dangerous the world would be if big countries could “simply invade their peaceful neighbors with impunity”.
“Conflict is neither imminent nor inevitable,” Austin said. “The deterrence is strong today – and it’s our job to keep it that way. The whole world has a stake in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
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