War in Taiwan would be ‘devastating,’ US Defense Secretary warns

() — A war over Taiwan would be “devastating” and would affect the world economy “in ways we cannot imagine,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned, stressing US support for the island’s democracy.

“Conflict is not imminent or inevitable. Deterrence is strong today; and it is our job to keep it that way,” Austin said in remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit on Saturday, attended by representatives of dozens of of countries, including China.

“The entire world has an interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. The security of commercial shipping lanes and global supply chains depends on it. And the same goes for freedom of navigation around the world. Make no mistake: a conflict in the Taiwan Straits would be devastating.”

In a question and answer session after his speech, Austin added: “A conflict in the Taiwan Strait would affect the world economy in ways we cannot imagine.”

China’s ruling Communist Party claims Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having controlled it, and its increasingly frequent military maneuvers near and around the island have raised concerns about how far it will go to make that claim a reality. . Chinese leader Xi Jinping has not ruled out the use of force.

Shortly after Austin spoke on Saturday, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Lt. Gen. Jing Jianfeng told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that the US defense chief’s comments on Taiwan were “completely wrong.”

Jing accused Washington of trying to “consolidate hegemony and provoke confrontation,” adding that the US actions harmed regional peace and stability.

Late Saturday afternoon, a US Navy spokesman said US and Canadian warships were sailing through the Taiwan Strait while talks were taking place in Singapore.

The transit of the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon and the frigate HIMCS Montreal was routine and occurred “through waters in which the freedoms of navigation and overflight on the high seas apply in accordance with international law,” the ministry said in a statement. Lieutenant Kristina Wiedemann, spokeswoman for the US Navy.

“This type of cooperation represents the centerpiece of our approach to achieving a secure and prosperous region in which aircraft and ships of all countries can fly, navigate and operate anywhere international law allows,” added the release.

Austin’s earlier comments came at a tense time for US-China relations, as China recently rejected an offer by Austin to meet at the Singapore summit, citing US sanctions on officials. and Chinese companies.

Austin addressed the miscommunication in his speech on Saturday, saying he was “deeply concerned” that the PRC “has not been willing to engage more seriously in better crisis management mechanisms.”

A Chinese fighter confronts a US Navy plane. 3:27

“For responsible leaders, the right time to speak is anytime. The right time to speak is always. And the right time to speak is now,” Austin said. “Dialogue is not a reward. It is a necessity.”

Austin noted that he and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu greeted each other with smiles at a banquet on Friday night, but called on Beijing to do more.

“A cordial handshake over dinner is no substitute for a serious commitment,” he said.

Throughout his speech, Austin listed the ways the US is partnering with its allies in the region, stating that those partnerships are bringing the region closer together and making it “more stable and resilient.”

Austin reaffirmed that the US will “continue to support our allies and partners in defending their rights” and will maintain “our vigorous and responsible presence throughout the Indo-Pacific.”

Criticizing China for its “alarming number of risky interceptions of US and allied aircraft” in international airspace, Austin added that the US will stand with allies and partners against “coercion and intimidation.”

“We’re not looking for conflict or confrontation,” Austin said. “But we will not back down from intimidation or coercion.”

Austin reaffirmed the readiness of the United States in the region.

“The way to deter any wrong decision is to have a credible military in combat,” he said in response to a question, adding that the US “will be ready no matter what.”

Drew Thompson, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said Austin held out a “positive and inclusive” view of the region, adding that it is a view that has benefited Beijing over the years. decades.

The next step will be that of Beijing. Defense Minister Li addresses the Shangri-La forum this Sunday morning.

“It will be interesting to see how General Li responds tomorrow,” Thompson said.

“In many ways, the door is open for China to cooperate with the United States and other countries in the region to contribute to stability,” he added.

— ‘s Eric Cheung contributed to this report.

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