US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday criticized China for a “more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims”.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s premier defense conference, Austin said there had been an “alarming” increase in the number of unsafe and unprofessional encounters between Chinese planes and ships. with those of other countries.
“We have witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activities near Taiwan, and that includes the PLA [Chinese military] planes flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months and almost daily,” Austin said.
Taiwan and China separated in a civil war in 1949, but China sees it as a renegade province to be reunited with the mainland.
Beijing warns if ‘anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China’
Austin’s comments come a day after he met with Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the conference for talks where Taiwan figured prominently.
Wei had warned Austin that “if anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will certainly not hesitate to start a war, whatever the cost”, according to the Chinese Ministry of Defense which quotes him .
He also said that Beijing would “pull to shreds any ‘Taiwan independence’ plots and resolutely support the unification of the motherland”, according to the ministry.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry has denounced China’s sovereignty claims as “absurd”.
“Taiwan has never been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government, and the people of Taiwan will not succumb to threats of the Chinese government’s use of force,” said ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.
Austin said US policy on Taiwan should remain opposed to “any unilateral change to the status quo on either side.”
“Our policy hasn’t changed. But unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be true for the PRC,” he said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability and the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. But the PRC’s actions threaten to undermine security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.”
However, he added, “we will do our part to manage these tensions responsibly, to prevent conflict and to seek peace and prosperity.”
US-China tensions over Taiwan
Washington has long had a policy of strategic ambiguity about whether it will militarily defend Taiwan.
But last month, US President Joe Biden said Washington would intervene if Beijing used force against the island.
When asked if the United States would use military force, the American president replied, “Yes.” “That’s the commitment we made.”
His administration was then quick to clarify that US policy on the issue had not changed.
Austin also said Saturday that Washington remains committed to the “one China policy,” whereby the United States does not formally recognize Beijing but maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.
He said the United States “strongly supports the principle that cross-strait disputes should be resolved by peaceful means,” but also that the United States will continue to honor its commitments to Taiwan.
“That includes helping Taiwan maintain sufficient self-defense capability,” he said. “And that means maintaining our own ability to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.”
lo/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)
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