Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asserted Tuesday that the United States will not “flinch” when threatened, saying the U.S. will continue helping Taiwan and other Pacific allies defend themselves against Chinese aggression.
“Nobody — no one wants to see a unilateral change to the status quo with respect to Taiwan. And again, we are committed to supporting Taiwan and its capability to — to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and our One China policy,” Austin said during the Fullerton Lecture Series at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore Tuesday. “So you know, I don’t want to hazard any — any type of predictions. I think that again, we’ll stay focused on — on helping Taiwan to defend itself, having the capabilities to — to defend itself, going forward.”
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened, yet we do not seek confrontation,” he said.
Austin said he is “committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with” with China, which includes “strong crisis communication with the People’s Liberation Army.”
“You know, big powers need to model transparency and communication,” he added.
In Singapore, Austin noted that Western militaries are increasing activity in the South China Sea, including a British carrier strike group who sailed near the region on Tuesday. Among the strike group was the U.S. destroyer Sullivans, a U.S. Marine Corps F-35 squadron and three ships from the Singapore Royal Navy.
“Unfortunately, Beijing’s unwillingness to resolve disputes peacefully and respect the rule of law isn’t just occurring on the water,” Austin said. “We’ve also seen aggression against India, destabilizing military activity and other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan, and genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.”
“Now, these differences and disputes are real, but the way that you manage them counts,” Austin said.
In the prepared remarks portion of Austin’s appearance in Singapore, he also highlighted “a range of challenges” in the region that require “common action,” including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the “existential threat of climate change,” coercion from rising powers, North Korean nuclear dangers, repression inside countries like Myanmar and leaders who “ignore the rule of law and abuse the basic rights and dignity that all people deserve.”
“You know, I learned a core lesson over four decades as a soldier in peace and in war, and that lesson is that nobody can go it alone, at least, not for very long,” Austin said. “We are far stronger and for far longer, when we come together than we — when we let ourselves be split apart, and the United States and this region are more secure and more prosperous when we work together with our allies and partners.”