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US defence chief reaffirms One China policy, but speaks out against Beijing's 'more coercive, aggressive approach'

SINGAPORE — The United States remains committed to its long-standing One China policy, but will stand firmly against what it describes as "growing coercion" from Beijing, whose military activities near Taiwan threaten to undermine security and stability in the Indo Pacific region, said US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.
US defence chief reaffirms One China policy, but speaks out against Beijing's 'more coercive, aggressive approach'
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 11, 2022.
  • US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the One China policy
  • He also pointed out Beijing’s “aggressive” actions that threaten to destabilise the Indo Pacific region
  • His remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 11 come weeks after President Joe Biden said that the US was willing to use force to defend Taiwan against any aggression from China, angering Beijing
  • Mr Austin also spoke out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it a result of oppressors trampling a rules-based world order

SINGAPORE — The United States remains committed to its long-standing One China policy, but will stand firmly against what it describes as "growing coercion" from Beijing, whose military activities near Taiwan threaten to undermine security and stability in the Indo Pacific region, said US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

Speaking in the first plenary session at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday (June 11), Mr Austin’s statement comes weeks after President Joe Biden said that the US was willing to use force to defend Taiwan against any aggression by China, angering Beijing.

In his remarks on Saturday, Mr Austin reaffirmed Washington's commitment to peace and stability in the Indo Pacific region, and touched on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlights the importance of rule-based world order.

US POLICY ON CHINA UNCHANGED

Mr Austin said the US will continue standing by its friends in this region as they uphold their rights, especially in light of what he described as China’s “more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims”.

Among other things, he pointed to Beijing’s using outposts “bristling with advanced weaponry” on man-made islands in South China Sea and its hardening position along the border it shares with India.

Mr Austin was asked by a delegate member from the Philippines on what will be different in the Biden administration's approach to the South China Sea, as the current policy seems to have not changed China’s behaviour.

The delegate pointed out China's construction of artificial islands in the disputed waters despite US warnings of consequences if Beijing did so.

Mr Austin replied that allies and partners in the region have worked together in a more deliberate way to ensure their ability to protect their interests and territorial waters, in light of the developments.

“There are some consequences and those consequences are a much more united region; our region has focused ever so much more on a vision of a free and open Indo Pacific,” he said.

On China-Taiwan relations, Mr Austin said the US opposes any changes to the status quo from either side.

“We do not support Taiwan independence. And we stand firmly behind the principle that cross strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means,” he said.

Within the One China policy, however, he said that the US will continue to fulfil its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, which includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability.

“And it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.”

“So our policy hasn't changed. But unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be true for the PRC (People's Republic of China),” he said.

He said China’s recent moves threaten to destabilise security and prosperity in the Indo Pacific region, giving the example of People’s Liberation Army aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months.

He reiterated that maintaining stability in the region is not just a US interest, but a matter of international concern.

“So let me be clear, we do not seek confrontation or conflict and we do not seek a new Cold War, an Asian Nato, or a region split into hostile blocks,” said Mr Austin, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military alliance between the US, Canada and Europe set up after World War II as a counterweight to the former Soviet Union.

'INDO-PACIFIC AT THE HEART OF US GRAND STRATEGY'

In his remarks, Mr Austin said that no region will do more to set the trajectory of the 21st century than the Indo Pacific region.

The region is "our priority theatre of operations" and is "at the heart of American grand strategy," he added.

Hence, Washington remains committed to champion a positive future for the region, with its alliances and partnerships continuously deepening over time, Mr Austin said.

He added that the US will continue to do its part to strengthen security in the Indo-Pacific, highlighting three ways it is doing so: 

  • By working with allies to ensure they have the right capabilities to defend their interests and deter aggression
  • By holding exercises and training, which “expands our common readiness”
  • By working in flexible and customised ways, leading to the rise of nimble security networks that add stability to the region

Mr Austin said that Washington will do its part to “manage... tensions responsibly and to prevent conflict and to pursue peace and prosperity”, as the US works towards its vision of expanding security and increased cooperation for the region.

“And that means we're following the wise counsel from (Singapore) Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong), who argued that nobody should force binary choices on the region. And he’s right,” added Mr Austin.

RUSSIAN INVASION SHOWS VALUE OF RULES-BASED ORDER

In his remarks, the US Secretary of Defence also touched on the ongoing conflict following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

He said that the crisis has emphasised the issue of sovereignty and the importance of a rules-based international order.

“And I'm here because the rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe,” he said.

He pointed to how partners in the region understand that smaller countries have a right to peacefully resolve disputes with their larger neighbours, which is why countries such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand have rushed security assistance to Ukraine.

“And it's why countries across this region have sped humanitarian aid to the suffering people, Ukrainian people, including vital contributions from Singapore, Thailand, India and Vietnam,” he said.

Mr Austin was asked if the US shared Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s concerns that the Ukraine of today may be the East Asia of tomorrow. Mr Kishida had made these remarks in his keynote speech at the event on Friday. 

The US Defence Secretary replied that the situation in Ukraine highlights why countries have militaries to defend their sovereignty. 

He then pointed to the “remarkable” global response towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, indicating that the world community “truly values the international rules-based order and adherence to that order.

In his remarks, Mr Austin said: “Russia invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all."

“It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours and it's a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”

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Shangri-La Dialogue Lloyd Austin

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