UPDATED 3:00 a.m. EDT on 11-06-2022
The U.S. Secretary of Defense highlighted partnership as the top priority of U.S. security strategy in the Indo-Pacific during a keynote address on Saturday. However, Lloyd Austin stressed that the United States was not seeking to create “an Asian NATO”.
Austin spoke for half an hour during the first plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue 2022 security forum in Singapore.
While reiterating that the United States remains “deeply invested” and committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific, the Secretary of Defense said: “We do not seek confrontation and conflict and we do not seek a new war. cold, an Asian NATO or a region divided into hostile blocs.
The United States and its Indo-Pacific allies have recently expressed concern over China’s increasingly assertive military posture in the region.
Beijing, for its part, has complained about what it sees as attempts by the United States and its partners to form a defense alliance in the region.
When the leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia met last month for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, China cried foul. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington is “eager to league with ‘small circles’ and change China’s neighborhood environment”, making Asia-Pacific countries ‘pawns’ in the process. American hegemony.
“I think Secretary Austin has made it clear that there is no appetite for an Asian NATO,” said Blake Herzinger, a Singapore-based defense analyst.
“The United States values collective partnerships with shared visions and priorities, without the need to form a defense alliance,” he told RFA.
“A region free from coercion and intimidation”
The United States “will continue to stand with our friends as they defend their rights,” Austin said, adding that the engagement is “particularly important as the People’s Republic of China takes a more coercive and aggressive approach to of its territorial claims.
He referred to the Chinese Air Force’s near-daily incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and an “alarming” increase in the number of dangerous and unprofessional encounters between planes and aircraft. Chinese ships with those of other countries.
More recently, US ally Australia accused China of carrying out a “dangerous interception” of one of its surveillance planes near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Austin met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue on Friday. During the meeting, which lasted nearly an hour, the two sides discussed how to better manage their relationship and prevent mishaps, but came to no concrete resolution.
Austin used Saturday’s speech to remind Beijing that “great powers have great responsibilities”, saying “we will do our part to handle these tensions responsibly – to prevent conflict and pursue peace and prosperity.”
The Indo-Pacific is the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) “priority theatre,” he noted, adding that his department’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 calls for one of the most most important in history to preserve the security of the region.
This includes US$6.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to strengthen multilateral information sharing and support training and experimentation with partners.
The budget also aims to encourage innovation in all areas, including space and cyberspace, “to develop new capabilities that will allow us to deter aggression even more reliably,” he said.
The U.S. military is expanding exercises and training programs with regional partners, the Secretary of Defense said. Later in June, the Pentagon will host the 28th Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise with forces from 26 nations, 38 ships and nearly 25,000 personnel.
Next year, a Coast Guard Cutter will be deployed to Southeast Asia and Oceania, he said, “the first major U.S. Coast Guard permanently stationed in the region.”
“Secretary Austin offered a compelling vision, grounded in American determination to champion the absence of coercion and oppose the dangerously outdated concept of aggressively carved out spheres of influence,” said Andrew Erickson, research director of the China Maritime Studies Institute of the US Naval War College. , speaking in a personal capacity.
“The key will be for Washington to match Austin’s rhetoric with the resolve and resources needed long after today’s Dialogue ends,” Erickson said.
“It is this follow-up that will determine much in what President Biden rightly calls the ‘Decisive Decade,'” he added.
Last month in Tokyo, Biden announced a new Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) which Austin said would provide greater access to maritime domain awareness from space for countries in the region.
The US Secretary of Defense spoke at length about his government’s policy toward Taiwan, saying “we are committed to maintaining the status quo that has served this region so well for so long.”
While remaining committed to the longstanding one-China policy, the United States adamantly opposes “any unilateral change to the status quo by either side.”
“We don’t support Taiwan independence. And we strongly support the principle that cross-strait differences should be resolved by peaceful means,” Austin said.
The United States continues to help Taiwan maintain its self-defense capability and this week approved the sale of US$120 million in spare parts and technical assistance for the Taiwanese navy.
This decision was condemned by Beijing. Lt. Col. Tan Kefei, spokesman for China’s Defense Ministry, said the US arms sales “constitute gross interference in China’s internal affairs” and should be revoked immediately.
During Friday’s bilateral meeting, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe also warned his counterpart that the Chinese military “will resolutely crush any attempt at ‘Taiwan independence’ at any cost.”
This story has been updated to reflect China’s position in the last two paragraphs.