With the Pentagon focused on China, the US military wants to shore up and strengthen partnerships to counter Beijing in Asia. Speaking in Singapore on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin slammed China and stressed the importance of alliances to face what he called “coercion” in the Indo-Pacific region.
Austin said the US would work “with partners to deter coercion and aggression across the spectrum of conflict. He said the US will cooperate with allies in the region using what he called “integrated deterrence,” which includes all military domains, including cyber and space.
Austin said he has seen Chinese “aggression” in places like the South China Sea, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and other areas. He reaffirmed that the US was willing to go to war with China over maritime disputes with the Philippines and Japan. “We remain committed to the treaty obligations that we have to Japan in the Senkaku Islands and to the Philippines in the South China Sea,” he said.
Austin said the US will “not flinch” when its “interests are threatened” but claimed that Washington does not “seek confrontation.” The Pentagon chief also claimed that he is “committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China,” but US actions speak differently.
The US has significantly stepped up its military activity in sensitive waters near China’s coast, such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Washington is also encouraging its allies to join in on the provocations. Austin hailed the British deployment of a new aircraft carrier to the region. The HMS Queen Elizabeth and its strike group entered the South China Sea this week.
After Singapore, Austin is due to visit the Philippines and Vietnam. In the Philippines, he will likely discuss the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a treaty that allows US troops to be stationed in the country on a rotational basis. The VFA has been temporarily extended several times, and the two countries are negotiating a more permanent treaty.
Austin’s speech in Singapore came a day after Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited China and met with high-level officials. The meetings appeared to be tense, but both sides left open the possibility of further dialogue.