US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Saturday said he was traveling to Asia to boost military cooperation with US allies and foster “credible deterrence” against China.
Austin embarked on his first foreign visit as Pentagon chief via Hawaii, seat of the US military command for the Indo-Pacific region.
“This is all about alliances and partnerships,” Austin told reporters on the trip, which is to include meetings with key allies in Tokyo, New Delhi and Seoul.
“It’s also about enhancing capabilities,” he said, adding that while the US was focused on the anti-extremist struggle in the Middle East, China was modernizing its army at high speed.
“That competitive edge that we’ve had has eroded,” Austin said. “We still maintain that edge. We are going to increase that edge going forward.”
“Our goal is to make sure that we have the capabilities and the operational plans ... to be able to offer a credible deterrence to China or anybody else who would want to take on the US,” he added.
Austin is to be joined in Tokyo and Seoul by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“One of the things that the secretary of state and I want to do is begin to strengthen those alliances,” he said. “This will be more about listening and learning, getting their point of view.”
The tour in Asia follows an unprecedented summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal alliance born in the 2000s between Australia, India, Japan and the US to counterbalance a rising China.
Blinken is to join US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday with Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) and Chinese Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪).
The Alaska talks would be the first between the powers since Yang met Blinken’s hawkish predecessor, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, in June last year in Hawaii — a setting similarly far from the high-stakes glare of national capitals.
The administration of US President Joe Biden has generally backed the tougher approach to China initiated by former US president Donald Trump, but has also said that it can be more effective by shoring up alliances and seeking narrow ways to cooperate on priorities such as climate change.
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