By Idrees Ali
SINGAPORE, June 11 (Reuters) – The United States will do its part to manage tensions with China and prevent conflict even as Beijing grows increasingly aggressive in the Asian region, including near Taiwan, the government said on Saturday. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Relations between China and the United States have been strained in recent months, with the world’s two largest economies clashing over everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military activity. in the South China Sea.
In a meeting between Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on Friday, the two sides reiterated that they want to better manage their relationship although there are no signs of a breakthrough in resolving disputes.
Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security gathering, Austin said the United States would continue to support its allies, including Taiwan.
“This is particularly important as the PRC (People’s Republic of China) takes a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims,” he said.
China claims Taiwan as its own and has pledged to take it by force if necessary.
Austin said there had been an “alarming” increase in the number of unsafe and unprofessional encounters between Chinese planes and ships with those of other countries.
A Chinese fighter jet dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea region in May and the Canadian military has accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its patrol planes as they surveyed the bypasses North Korean sanctions.
Taiwan has complained for years about repeated missions by the Chinese air force in its air defense identification zone, which is not territorial airspace but a wider area from which it monitors threats. Austin said those incursions have increased in recent months.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry on Friday thanked the United States for its support and denounced China’s “absurd” claims of sovereignty.
“Taiwan has never been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government, and the people of Taiwan will not succumb to threats of the Chinese government’s use of force,” said ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.
Austin said US policy toward Taiwan should remain opposed to any unilateral change to the status quo.
“Our policy hasn’t changed. But unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be true for the PRC,” Austin said.
However, he added, “We will do our part to manage these tensions responsibly, to prevent conflict and to pursue peace and prosperity.”
Biden said last month that the United States would get involved militarily if China attacked Taiwan, although the administration has since clarified that American policy on the issue has not changed.
Washington has long had a policy of strategic ambiguity about whether it will militarily defend Taiwan.
Austin’s encounter with Wei largely focused on Taiwan.
“Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is not just a US interest. It’s a matter of international interest,” Austin said.
NO ASIAN NATO
In a speech focusing on US engagement in the region, Austin said the United States would maintain its presence in Asia, but that Washington understood the need to prevent conflict.
“We are not looking for confrontation or conflict. And we are not looking for a new Cold War, an Asian NATO or a region divided into hostile blocs,” he said.
Austin also touched on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has been a priority in Washington and other Western capitals over the past three months.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when the oppressors trample on the rules that protect us all,” Austin said. “It’s a glimpse into a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was due to address the Shangri-La dialogue during a virtual session later on Saturday.
Earlier this year, Washington said China appeared ready to help Russia in its war against Ukraine.
But since then, US officials have said that while they remain suspicious of China’s longstanding support for Russia in general, the military and economic support they have worried about has not materialized, at least for the moment.
China did not condemn Russia’s attack or call it an invasion, but called for a negotiated solution. Beijing and Moscow have grown closer in recent years, and in February the two sides signed a far-reaching strategic partnership aimed at countering US influence and said they would have “no ‘prohibited’ areas of cooperation. “. (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)