SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday denounced China’s “provocative and destabilizing” military activity near Taiwan, as well as Beijing’s growing aggression across the Asia-Pacific region.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing are soaring over democratic, self-governing Taiwan, which China considers its territory and has vowed to one day seize, by force if necessary.
Beijing has carried out dozens of incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone this year, and on Friday Defense Minister Wei Fenghe warned Austin that China was ready to go to war if the island declared independence.
In an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, Austin took aim at Beijing’s “increasing coercion” towards Taiwan, a day after holding his first face-to-face talks with Wei.
“We have witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activities near Taiwan,” he told the forum, which is attended by defense ministers from Asia and around the world.
“That includes (Chinese military) planes flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months, and almost daily,” he said.
“We categorically oppose any unilateral change to the status quo on either side,” he added.
But he also stressed the importance of “fully open lines of communication with China’s defense leadership” to avoid miscalculations. “These are deeply, deeply important conversations.” On Friday, Wei had warned Austin that “if anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will certainly not hesitate to start a war at any cost,” according to Chinese officials.
He also vowed that Beijing would “pull to shreds any ‘Taiwan independence’ plot and resolutely support the unification of the motherland”, according to the Chinese Defense Ministry. Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it rejected Beijing’s “absurd claims”.
“The Taiwanese people will not yield to the threat of force from the Chinese government,” he said in a statement. The war of words was just the latest between Washington and Beijing.
They have clashed over everything from China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea to trade and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in part due to increased incursions by Chinese military aircraft into the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
Posted in Dawn, June 12, 2022
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