Show caption US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin delivering his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA China US warns of ‘stark’ stakes in Taiwan Strait if status quo unilaterally altered Defence secretary says US does not support Taiwan independence, which China says would prompt it to take island back Vincent Ni and agencies Sat 11 Jun 2022 18.07 BST Share on Facebook
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The US has warned of “especially stark” stakes in the Taiwan Strait if the status quo is unilaterally altered, as China reiterated its resolve to take the island back if it declares independence.
Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore on Saturday, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington does not support Taiwanese independence, and the Joe Biden administration “categorically” opposes any change of the status quo.
Austin’s comments came as his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, was earlier reported as saying Beijing will “not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost” if independence was declared in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry denounced China’s claims of its sovereignty as “absurd” and thanked the US for the show of support. “Taiwan has never been under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government, and the people of Taiwan will not succumb to threats of force from the Chinese government,” said ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou.
“As part of our one-China policy, we’ll continue to fulfil our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act. That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability,” Austin said. “And it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.”
Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in particular due to increasing Chinese aircraft incursions into the island’s air defence identification zone (Adiz). President Biden said during a visit to Japan in May that Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if it was attacked by China. The White House has since insisted its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it would intervene has not changed.
In his keynote speech on Saturday, Austin blasted China’s “provocative, destabilising” military activity near Taiwan and said the US would do its part to manage tensions with China and prevent conflict despite Beijing becoming increasingly aggressive in the Asia-Pacific region. He told the Shangri-La forum the US would continue to stand by its allies, including Taiwan.
“That’s especially important as the PRC [China] adopts a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims,” Austin said. There had been an “alarming” increase in the number of unsafe and unprofessional encounters between Chinese planes and vessels with those of other countries, Austin said.
A senior Chinese military officer called Austin’s speech “confrontational”. Despite Washington’s repeated claim that it does not support Taiwan’s independence, Beijing has long suspected otherwise. The suspicion has been exacerbated by the breakdown of mutual trust in recent years as power competition intensifies.
Earlier, Wei Fenghe reportedly told Austin that Beijing would “smash to smithereens any Taiwan independence plot and resolutely uphold the unification of the motherland”.
With concerns mounting over China-Taiwan tensions, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, said in a keynote address to the summit that his government would consider acquiring a preemptive strike capability because “Ukraine today may be east Asia tomorrow”.
The world must be “prepared for the emergence of an entity that tramples on the peace and security of other countries by force or threat without honouring the rules”, he said. He did not mention China by name in his address, but repeatedly called for the “rules-based international order” to be upheld.
Kishida said he would lay out a “free and open Indo-Pacific plan for peace” by next spring in which Japan would provide development aid, patrol boats, maritime law enforcement capabilities and other assistance to countries in south-east Asia and the Pacific to help them better guard themselves.
Japan would provide such support to at least 20 countries, train at least 800 maritime security personnel and provide about $2bn in assistance over the next three years, he said.
Kishida told his audience that Japan’s defence enhancement would be transparent and within the scope of its constitution.
He said the security environment in the Indo-Pacific region was deteriorating because of increasing tensions in the East and South China seas and around Taiwan.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threat to use nuclear weapons had made things worse but the trend must be reversed, Kishida said, noting his position as the leader of the only country that has suffered nuclear attacks.
“I must admit that the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become even more challenging,” Kishida said.
He described North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles, including ICBMs, and development of nuclear weapons as a serious threat to regional peace and stability. “The non-transparent buildup of military capacity, including nuclear arsenals, around Japan has become a serious regional security concern,” he said.
The threat may damage non-proliferation efforts by creating a reluctance among possessors of nuclear weapons to abandon them, and a desire among others to develop them, Kishida said.
Austin said in his speech, which focused on the US commitment to Asia, the US would maintain its presence in the region but Washington understood the need to prevent conflict.
“We do not seek confrontation or conflict. And we do not seek a new cold war, an Asian Nato or a region split into hostile blocs,” he said.
Austin also referred to Ukraine, which has been a priority in Washington and other western capitals over the past three months. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all,” Austin said. “It’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
As well as over Taiwan, China and the US have been at loggerheads over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Washington accusing Beijing of providing tacit support for Moscow.
China has called for talks to end the war, but has stopped short of condemning Russia’s actions and has repeatedly criticised American arms donations to Ukraine. China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea have also stoked tensions with Washington.
Wei is to deliver a speech at the summit on Sunday. The three-day forum, concluding on Sunday, is taking place for the first time since 2019 after twice being postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse