The US military will keep passing through Asian skies and seas where China has become increasingly pugnacious, defence secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in Singapore, where the Chinese defence minister’s refusal to hold talks with him has highlighted the rifts between Beijing and Washington.
The annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore has in its two decades of operation become a venue for military officials from Washington and Beijing to rhetorically spar, but also to hold bilateral discussions aimed at blunting tensions. This year, however, the Chinese defence minister, General Li Shangfu, declined to meet Austin.
In his speech, Austin pressed his main themes: justifying activities by the US and its allies in the seas and airspace near China; promoting stronger alliances with Washington in the region; and vowing continued US support for Taiwan. All these are sore points for Beijing, especially Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
“We won’t be deterred by dangerous operational behaviour at sea or in international airspace,” Austin told the audience of military officials and experts from across Asia and beyond. “The People’s Republic of China continues to conduct an alarming number of risky intercepts of US and allied aircraft flying lawfully in international airspace. “We’ve all just seen another troubling case of aggressive and unprofessional flying by the PRC,” he said, referring to China.
In late May, a Chinese J-16 jet fighter flew perilously close to a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea, according to the US Indo-Pacific Command.
It was one of the recent flare-ups shaping discussion in Singapore, where concern focused on the confounding dynamic between the world’s two biggest economies: signs of efforts to ease tensions, amid deep mutual distrust over military and strategic intentions.
Austin and the Chinese defence minister, General Li, shook hands during a brief encounter at the forum’s opening dinner on Friday. But on Saturday, Austin said it was not enough.
New York Times News Service