US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday blasted China’s “provocative, destabilising” military activity near Taiwan, as well as Beijing’s growing aggression across the wider Asia-Pacific region.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing are soaring over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan, which China views as its territory and has vowed to seize one day, by force if necessary.
In an address to the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, Austin took aim at Beijing’s “growing coercion” towards Taiwan, a day after holding his first face-to-face talks with Wei.
“That includes (Chinese military) aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months, and nearly on a daily basis,” he said.
But he also stressed the importance of “fully open lines of communication with China’s defence leaders” in avoiding miscalculations.
On Friday, Wei had warned Austin that “if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost”, according to Chinese officials.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it rejects Beijing’s “absurd claims”.
The war of words was just the latest between Washington and Beijing.
– Aircraft incursions –
President Joe Biden, during a visit to Japan last month, appeared to break decades of US policy when, in response to a question, he said Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it is attacked by China.
In Saturday’s address, the Pentagon chief reiterated US criticism of China’s increasingly “coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims”.
Beijing has been accused of deploying a range of military hardware including anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles there, and has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over most of the waters to be without basis.
He also criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the same time taking a veiled swipe at China’s growing aggression.
The United States and China have been at loggerheads over the invasion, with Washington accusing Beijing of providing tacit support for Moscow.
China’s defence minister will address the summit on Sunday, its final day.