SINGAPORE, AP -- American Secretary for Defense Lloyd Austin vowed on Saturday that Washington will not tolerate any 'coercion or bullying' by China of its allies and partner countries. He also assured Beijing that Washington remains committed to maintaining status quo in Taiwan and prefers dialogue over conflict.
Austin, speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue - a forum that brings together the top diplomats, defense officials and leaders - argued for Washington's vision for a "free, secure and open Indo-Pacific in a world of rights and rules" as the best way to counter the increasing assertiveness of China in the region.
The U.S. is expanding its activities in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China's territorial claims. This includes regularly flying and sailing over the Taiwan Strait, as well as the South China Sea.
He said: "We are committed in ensuring that each country is able to fly, sail and conduct operations wherever international law permits." "And all countries, big or small, should be able to engage in lawful maritime activity."
Austin pointed out that the U.S. regularly participates in humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts in the area. He noted that the U.S. is actively working to combat climate changes, illegal fishing, and ensure supply chains are not disrupted -- a list of many issues important to Asian-Pacific countries.
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He said, 'We are doubling down on alliances and partnership'.
He also said that the U.S. was committed to deterring North Korea’s missile threat, as well as China’s claims over Taiwan, an island democracy with self-government, which Beijing believes is its territory. Washington, he said, has increased defense planning, coordination, and training in partnership nations throughout the region.
He said: 'To make it clear, we don't seek conflict or confrontation.' "But we won't flinch at bullying or coercion."
Austin said that the U.S. was 'deeply commited' to its long-standing one China policy. This policy recognizes Beijing as China's government, but allows for informal relations with Taiwan. It also continues to "categorically" oppose unilateral changes from either side.
He said that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia had shown how dangerous it would be for large countries to be able to "just invade their peaceful neighbors without any consequences.'
Austin stated that conflict is neither imminent or inevitable. Austin said that 'deterrence today is strong -- and our job is to keep it this way. The world is interested in maintaining stability and peace in the Taiwan Strait.