US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin yesterday vowed to help Asian nations push back against Chinese “bullying,” describing the efforts as necessary to prevent a repeat of the Ukraine crisis in the Pacific.
Austin told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that the Asia-Pacific region was at the “heart of American grand strategy,” despite the European conflict consuming US attention and resources.
In his first address to the summit, he drew comparisons between Russian actions and China’s “more coercive and aggressive approach” to its own territorial claims.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all,” Austin told a ballroom filled with international defense and security officials. “It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors, and it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
US President Joe Biden is facing continued skepticism about the US’ commitment to Asia, despite renewed openness to Washington’s rhetoric about defending the sovereignty of smaller nations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security grievances since a landmark joint statement ahead of the Ukraine war has created a strategic opening for US policy in Asia, US officials say.
“We feel the headwinds — from threats and intimidation — and the obsolete belief in a world carved up into spheres of influence,” the defense secretary said.
In Taipei, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late on Friday that China’s criticism of US arms sales to Taiwan is “absurd.”
The ministry thanked Washington for concrete actions toward maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou’s (歐江安) remarks came after a bilateral meeting between Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和) earlier in the day on the sidelines of the summit.
Wei told Austin that “Taiwan is China’s Taiwan” and that the US’ recent announcement of arms sales to Taipei “severely damaged China’s sovereign[ty] and security interests,” the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
Ausin reiterated the US’ commitment to its “one China” policy guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques and the “six assurances,” the US Department of Defense said.
Austin “reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the [Taiwan] Strait, opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo, and called on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan,” it said.
The foreign ministry said that the “Republic of China (Taiwan) is a sovereign country that has never been under the rule of the Chinese government and that its people will not submit to Chinese oppression or threats of force.”
Taiwan would continue to strengthen its self-defense capabilities, and work with the US and other like-minded countries to defend a rules-based international order that safeguards safety, stability and prosperity in the Taiwan Strait and the Indo-Pacific region, Ou said.
The ministry also expressed gratitude to the Japanese government for its continued concern over cross-strait peace and stability.
It was referring to remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who in his keynote speech at the security forum on Friday said that peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is “of extreme importance.”
In related news, the Monterey Talks, which some pundits consider the most important strategic collaboration between Taiwan and the US, are to take place in California next week.
A delegation of officials from the foreign ministry and the Ministry of National Defense is expected to be headed by National Security Council Secretary-General Wellington Koo (顧立雄) to attend the talks.
Biden’s administration might ask Taiwan to agree on upgrades to existing equipment instead of new arms sales, as this would raise the nation’s combat readiness immediately, sources said yesterday.
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