U.S. Defense Secy Austin warns of growing coercion from China

U.S. Defense Secy Austin warns of growing coercion from China

SINGAPORE -- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned of the growing coercion from Beijing on Taiwan and said that while American policy toward the self-governing island has not changed, the same cannot be said for China.

Austin said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that aircraft from China's People's Liberation Army have been flying near the island in record numbers in the past few months, nearly on a daily basis, as a result of a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan. He said that it doesn't seem to be true for the PRC, referring to the People's Republic of China.

Austin said in a wide-ranging speech read transcript that the U.S. will stand by its friends in the region as they uphold their rights. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, while many Taiwanese see themselves as distinct from the mainland. The Taiwan Strait is particularly high in the wake of Russia's war with Ukraine, which has raised fears that Beijing might try to change the status quo by force or coercion.

Austin said the U.S. doesn't support Taiwan independence, and Washington stands firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means. He said that the U.S. does not want to see a new Cold War, an Asian NATO or a region split into hostile blocks. He warned Beijing that maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is not just a U.S. interest but a matter of international concern. Austin said the U.S. will maintain its capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or economic system of the people of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, as well as aiding Taiwan's self-defense capabilities under the Taiwan Relations Act. Austin noted that China has asserted itself increasingly in the East China Sea, where the country's expanding fishing fleet is causing tensions with its neighbors in the South China Sea, where it has stationed weapons on artificial islands and on its border with India, where Beijing is continuing to harden its position. Austin called the Indo-Pacific America's priority theater of operations, and said the region is at the heart of American grand strategy. He said the US is committed to standing by its partners and continuing to strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific, highlighting the fact that more members of the American military -- over 300,000 men and women -- are stationed in the region than any other part of the world.

The defense secretary said the security alliances in the Indo-Pacific are a great source of stability and that the Pentagon's new goal of integrated deterrence will center on the five treaty allies in the region: Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

He said that the U.S. is looking to strengthen relations with other partners and singling out India as the top candidate. We're also working on closer ties with other partners. I'm thinking of India, the world's largest democracy. He said that it believes that its growing military capability and technological prowess can be a stabilizing force in the region.

The region will do more to set the trajectory of the 21st century than this one, Austin said. The Indo-Pacific is our centre of strategic gravity.