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Austin: 'Competition must not spill over into conflict' with China

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned this week that “competition must not spill over into conflict” with China as tensions between China and the United States have been on the rise. 

Austin said in remarks at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore on Friday that China continues to carry out “an alarming number of risky intercepts” of U.S. and allies’ aircraft flying in international airspace over the South China Sea. He noted the recent incident in which the U.S. military has alleged that a Chinese jet took an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” near a U.S. spy plane over the sea. 

He said the U.S. does not seek conflict with China but “will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion.” 

“President Biden has been clear. The United States does not seek a new Cold War. And competition must not spill over into conflict,” Austin said. 

He said the Indo-Pacific region should not be split into “hostile blocs,” and that the U.S. is working to increase its use of diplomacy and emphasize peace, security and stability in the region. 

Austin’s speech comes as tensions have escalated between the U.S. and China, especially over China’s territorial claims in the area. China claims most of the South China Sea as its own, while the U.S. and much of the world considers it international waters. 

The Chinese government has sharply criticized the U.S. for its continued support of Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island that China considers to be part of its territory and awaiting reunification with the mainland. 

The U.S. pursues a one China policy that acknowledges China’s claim to be the sole legitimate government but considers Taiwan’s status to be unresolved. Federal law also requires the U.S. to provide Taiwan support to defend itself from any potential attacks. 

Austin said the U.S. is “deeply committed to preserving the status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. He said the entire world has a vested interest in peace continuing in the region, with the security of commercial shipping and global supply chains depending on it. 

China has periodically conducted military exercises near Taiwan in response to U.S. support for and contact with the island. 

Austin’s Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, declined to meet with him during the weekend conference despite both attending. Austin said the two of them not meeting was “unfortunate” and he would “welcome any opportunity to engage with leadership.” 

Austin said the U.S. and China must have clear and open lines of communication, especially between defense and military leaders. 

“For responsible defense leaders, the right time to talk is anytime. The right time to talk is every time. And the right time to talk is now. Dialogue is not a reward. It is a necessity. And a cordial handshake over dinner is no substitute for a substantive engagement,” he said.

Source: The Hill

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