On Saturday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasised America’s support for Taiwan, saying that recent Chinese military activity surrounding the self-governing island threatens to upset the status quo.
Austin underlined a persistent increase in provocative and destabilising military activities near Taiwan, including practically daily military flights near the island by the People’s Republic of China, when speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Our policy hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in the PRC, he added.
Austin stated that the United States is committed to the one-China policy, which recognises Beijing while allowing for informal interactions and defence links with Taipei.
Taiwan and China separated amid a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own and has not ruled out using military force to seize it.
In recent years, China has increased its military provocations against democratic Taiwan in order to intimidate it into adopting Beijing’s demands for unification with the communist mainland.
In his speech, Austin stated, “We are committed to sustaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.” However, the PRC’s actions threaten to undermine Indo-Pacific security, stability, and prosperity.
He drew a contrast with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, stating that the unjustified assault on a peaceful neighbour has galvanised the world and… has reminded us all of the perils of undermining an international system based on norms and respect.
According to Austin, the rules-based international order is just as important in the Indo-Pacific as it is in Europe.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what occurs when oppressors disregard the laws that protect us all, he explained. It’s what occurs when major nations decide that their imperial ambitions are more important than the rights of their peaceful neighbours. And it foreshadows a world of instability and turbulence that none of us would want to live in.
According to a senior American defence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share specifics of the private meeting, Austin met with Chinese Defense Minister Gen Wei Fenghe on the margins of the conference on Friday for negotiations in which Taiwan had a key role.
Austin made it plain at the discussion that, while the US does not favour Taiwanese independence, it is concerned about China’s recent behaviour and believes Beijing is aiming to upset the status quo.
Meanwhile, according to a Chinese state-run CCTV report following the meeting, Wei protested to Austin about fresh American arms sales to Taiwan announced this week, saying it significantly threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests.
China vehemently rejects and condemns it, and the Chinese government and military will decisively crush any Taiwan independence scheme and fiercely preserve the motherland’s reunification, according to Wei.
Wei was reported by Chinese Defense Ministry spokeswoman Col. Wu Qian as declaring that China will respond to any attempt toward official Taiwan independence by demolishing it at whatever cost, even war.
Austin stated in his address that the US is strongly committed to the notion that cross-strait disagreements must be handled peacefully, but that it would also continue to fulfil its promises to Taiwan.
He stated that this includes aiding Taiwan in retaining a robust self-defense capacity.
And it means retaining our own ability to oppose any use of force or other types of coercion that might jeopardise Taiwan’s security or social or economic system.
The Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed US relations with the island since 1979, does not require the US to intervene militarily if China invades, but it does make it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent Beijing from unilaterally changing its status.
Austin emphasised the importance of partnerships and said the United States’ unparalleled network of alliances in the region has only grown, citing recent efforts with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN; the growing importance of the Quad group of the United States, India, Japan, and Australia; and the AUKUS trilateral security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom.
He denied Chinese claims that the US intended to establish an Asian NATO as part of its Indo-Pacific push.
Let me be clear: we do not desire confrontation or war, a new Cold War, an Asian NATO, or a region divided into antagonistic blocs, he stated.
According to Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles, AUKUS, under which Australia would buy nuclear-powered submarines from the US with the assistance of Britain, is a technology-sharing agreement, not a set of procedures like NATO.
Australia quickly backed out of a submarine contract with France in order to sign on to the AUKUS treaty, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Saturday that he had agreed to pay Paris 555 million euros (USD 584 million) in compensation.
Sebastien Lecornu, France’s new defence minister, hinted his country was eager to put the subject behind it, saying the relationship with Australia was long-standing, commemorating the sacrifice of young Australians who came to die on French territory during World War I.
There are ups and downs in any international ties, but Australia was there when there were true dramas, he added.