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War with China ‘neither imminent nor inevitable’, says US – DW – 01-06-2024

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that continued dialogue with China and its neighbors is necessary to prevent an escalation of current tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, while underscoring Washington’s regional security commitments.

Austin’s comments at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore come at a time when the US is deepening defense ties with several Asia-Pacific countries in light of China’s growing territorial assertion.

The conference comes a week after China carried out military exercises around the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, as “punishment” for comments seen as advocating separatism in the inauguration speech of new Taiwanese President Lai. Ching-te.

China and the Philippines are at odds over the South China Sea

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What did Austin say?

“Every conversation will not be a happy conversation. But it is important that we continue to talk to each other,” Austin told the conference, adding that “a war or a fight with China, in my view, is not imminent or inevitable.”

However, Austin placed great emphasis on Washington’s commitment to security in the region, which was reflected in a growing number of defense partnerships.

He said there has been a “new convergence around almost all aspects of security” in the Asia-Pacific over the past three years.

“This new convergence will deliver a stronger, more resilient and more capable network of partnerships that will define a new era of security in the Indo-Pacific,” Austin told the forum.

“Let me be clear: The United States can only be safe if Asia is safe,” Austin said. “That is why the United States has long maintained our presence in this region.”

“We’re all in this and we’re not going anywhere,” Austin said.

He also offered reassurance to several countries in the region that fear the wars in Ukraine and Gaza could draw Washington’s attention.

“Despite these historic clashes in Europe and the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific has remained our primary theater of operations,” Austin said in his speech.

How has China responded?

In response to Austin’s comments, Chinese Lt. Gen. Jing Jianfeng accused the United States of trying to build “an Asia-Pacific version of NATO.”

He then called the US the “greatest challenge to regional peace and stability.”

Jing, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, said the US Indo-Pacific strategy was intended “to create division, provoke confrontation and undermine stability.”

“It only serves the US’s selfish geopolitical interests and goes against the trend of history and regional countries’ shared aspirations for peace, development and win-win cooperation,” Jing said.

Amid US-China friction, Austin met with his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun on Friday for the first substantive face-to-face talks between the two countries’ defense chiefs in 18 months.

Austin and Dong met for talks on FridayImage: DoD/Chad J. McNeeley/Handout/REUTERS

Zelenskyy speech on the agenda

Defense officials also discussed security issues related to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza at the conference.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who arrived in Singapore on Saturday, will address the meeting in person on Sunday, the final day of the three-day conference, organizers said.

Zelenskiy will try to drum up support for Kiev as Russia continues its massive, unprovoked invasion of its neighbor, with a new offensive in northeastern Ukraine leading to recent territorial gains.

His move comes after the US decided to lift some restrictions on the use of US-supplied weapons for attacks in Russia, with Germany following suit by allowing the use of its weapons in a number of cross-border attacks.

Zelenskyy has praised the decisions as a “step forward.”

tj/wd (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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