U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a stern warning to China regarding its aggression in the Pacific.
Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said the United States would not flinch when America’s interests are threatened, but added that the U.S. is not seeking a confrontation.
Austin, who is the first African American to serve as the secretary of defense and previously served as the twelfth commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province.
The U.S. will “stay focused on helping Taiwan to defend itself or having the capabilities to defend itself going forward,” the former general noted.
Protecting U.S. Interests
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened,” Austin said. “Yet we do not seek confrontation. So let me be clear: As secretary, I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”
Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated in recent years over the issues of Taiwan and the South China Sea. At the same time, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has become the world’s largest naval force, and has undertaken a significant modernization and building program. The PLAN now operates two aircraft carriers, with a third under construction and a fourth in the development and design stages.
That fourth carrier will likely be nuclear-powered, putting China in a very exclusive club on the world stage.
Beyond Maritime Concerns
As the Washington Examiner noted, China’s increased military initiatives aren’t solely focused on the South China Sea or even in the Indo-Pacific. Beijing has taken a hard line against its own minority populations, while it has continued to confront India in the Kashmir region.
While speaking in Singapore, Austin was quick to address those issues.
“Unfortunately, Beijing’s unwillingness to resolve disputes peacefully and respect the rule of law isn’t just occurring on the water,” he said. “We have also seen aggression against India … destabilizing military activity and other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan … and genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.”
Unlike under the Trump administration, President Joe Biden has set a policy to rally allies and partners to help counter China’s increasingly coercive economic and foreign policies, CNBC.com reported. Later this week, Austin is set to visit Vietnam and the Philippines as part of an effort to emphasize the importance of alliances.
However, at the same time, Austin made it clear that this isn’t about creating an anti-China Coalition.
“We are not asking countries in the region to choose between the United States and China,” said Austin. “In fact, many of our partnerships in the region are older than the People’s Republic of China itself.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.