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The US Secretary of Defense is ‘deeply concerned’ by China’s unwillingness to participate

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged China’s military leadership to get involved after his call to meet with the Chinese counterpart was rejected, saying open lines of communication are “essential”.

In his keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore on Saturday, Austin said he is “deeply concerned that the People’s Republic of China has not been willing to engage more seriously in better mechanisms for crisis management among our two armies.”

The Secretary of Defense referred to China by its official name, the People’s Republic of China.

“For responsible defense leaders, the right time to talk is anytime, the right time to talk is always, and the right time to talk is now,” he said, adding that “dialogue is not a reward. It is a necessity”.

“And the more we talk, the more we can avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict.”

Secretary Austin and Chinese National Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has been under US sanctions since 2018, shared a brief handshake before an official dinner on Friday, but they did not speak to each other nor is a bilateral meeting expected. .

“A warm handshake over dinner is no substitute for a substantial commitment,” Austin said.

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu attends the ministerial round table during the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue on June 3, 2023. Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian

The US defense chief criticized China, which, he said, “continues to conduct an alarming number of risky interceptions of US and allied aircraft legally flying in international airspace.”

Last week, the US military accused a Chinese J-16 fighter jet of performing an “unnecessarily aggressive” act maneuver during the interception of a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.

“We do not seek conflict or confrontation, but we will not back down from intimidation or coercion,” Austin said.

The obvious gap between the two powers has “become the new reality,” said Huong Le Thu, a non-resident fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Regional countries have to accept it “whether they like it or not,” he told RFA.

“But they can help manage tensions by de-escalating by facilitating and encouraging US-China talks,” the analyst added.

shared vision

Carlito Galvez Jr., senior assistant secretary and officer in charge of the Philippine Department of Defense, said Manila believes that “international law is the greatest equalizer between states.”

The Philippines won a legal case against China’s claims in the South China Sea in a UN court in 2016, but Beijing has so far refused to accept the ruling.

The two countries have recently been embroiled in a new dispute over their sovereignty over some of the islands in the Spratly archipelago.

“As the old adage goes, good fences make good neighbors,” Gálvez said.

“Only when neighbors have clear boundaries and respect established boundaries do relations remain genuinely friendly,” the acting defense secretary said.

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said it is “imperative that we overcome our geopolitical rivalries, our territorial disputes through dialogues, negotiations and win-win solutions.”

“Compromise is the only way communities and societies can prosper,” he said, warning that superpower rivalry “has turned into a Cold War” and in any war, “the danger of catastrophe is always there. near”.

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US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will attend the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue for the third time this year. Credit: Reuters/Caroline Chia

The US Secretary of Defense, Austin, however, insisted that his country “is not looking for a new Cold War.”

“Competition should never turn into conflict. And the region must never be divided into hostile blocs,” he said.

Austin said Washington is not creating or willing to create a new NATO in the Indo-Pacific as China has repeatedly claimed.

However, the United States wishes to build “agile coalitions to advance our shared vision” to make the Indo-Pacific “more stable and more resilient,” Austin said.

Washington lists Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines and Thailand as its “staunch allies” in the region and sees India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore as “valued partners”.

Speaking about Taiwan’s self-governance, Austin said his country “remains deeply committed to preserving the status quo there, in accordance with our longstanding one-China policy, and fulfilling our well-established obligations under the Taiwan Relations Law”.

“The conflict is not imminent or inevitable. Deterrence is strong today, and it is our job to keep it that way,” the secretary said.

Beijing considers Taiwan a Chinese province and strongly protests against any involvement of “external forces” in the island’s politics.

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Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, left, listens as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese deliver a keynote address during the opening dinner of the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, 2023. Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Lt. Gen. Jing Jianfeng, deputy head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, responded to Lloyd Austin’s speech on Taiwan, saying he was “completely wrong.”

“There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is a sacred and inalienable part of Chinese territory,” Jing said, adding that “it is the common aspiration and sacred responsibility of all the Chinese people, including our Taiwanese compatriots, to complete reunification. Of the homeland.”

the chinese counterattack

A researcher at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Sciences, Major Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, said it is the United States that has been trying to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

“The Taiwan Strait has been quite stable in the past ten years, but the United States wants to destroy this stability,” Zhao told reporters at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

“That way they can sell weapons to Taiwan and make a lot of money,” he said.

Chinese participants in the security forum in Singapore have taken a proactive approach to counter criticism from the US and its allies.

Senior Colonel Zhao said Washington needs to change what he calls “wrong actions” in the way it interacts with others.

“When it comes to dialogue, you have to take care of the interests of the other party,” he said, accusing the US side of not understanding this basic principle.

Another Chinese delegate, Major Colonel Zhang Chi of the China National Defense University College of National Security, questioned whether Washington had contradicted itself by establishing multilateral institutions while promoting the centrality of the ASEAN bloc to Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Tang Yongshen, a former deputy commander of the same university, hit back at Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand for calling China a disruptive force in the region.

“China has made great efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region,” Tang said.

“Indeed, what you said is disturbing,” he added bluntly.

A spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party, the Global Times, quoted a military official as saying in a report on Saturday that “China hopes to take the stage and speak up.”

“Despite knowing that the Shangri-La Dialogue is a platform dominated by Western countries to attack China, China comes anyway,” the newspaper said.

Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu will deliver a major speech on Beijing’s new security initiatives on Sunday, the last day of the forum.

Edited by Mike Firn.

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