Pentagon chief says Taiwan policy unchanged, U.S. will not ask countries to pick sides

Placeholder while article actions load

SHENZHEN, China — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin insisted that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not shifted, even as he invoked parallels between the East Asian security situation and Ukraine while speaking at a defense summit in Singapore.

“I really want to highlight that our Taiwan policy has not changed,” Austin said, in response to a question from German Marshall Fund Asia Program director Bonnie Glaser on Saturday morning at the Shangri-La Dialogue. He said any unilateral change to the status quo on Taiwan “would be unwelcome and ill-advised.”

Still, Austin invoked parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s growing territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific during a speech before a packed room. According to Austin, Taiwan is part of an overall struggle for worldviews. He said Washington will continue to fight Beijing’s increasing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

“The Ukraine crisis poses some urgent questions for us all,” he said. Do rules really matter? Does sovereignty matter? … The rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe.”

Austin also accused China of taking a more “coercive and aggressive approach” in its regional territorial claims. While Washington will support smaller countries in their fight against Beijing’s pressure, he said they shouldn’t be forced into choosing sides in the U.S./China conflict.

“Nobody should force binary choices on the region,” he said. “Our fellow Indo-Pacific nations should be free to choose.”

Many Southeast Asian countries — including summit host Singapore — have said they do not wish to pick between the United States, the region’s traditional security guarantor, and China, their top trading partner.

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe is scheduled to make a rebuttal Sunday morning with a speech outlining China’s vision of regional security. Beijing claims that China wants to peacefully rise, and the United States is aggressor.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has fanned fears that China may make a similar move on Taiwan, the self-governing island that it claims as part of its territory. Although such an invasion is unlikely to occur in the immediate future, experts warn that it could be a flashpoint which can lead the United States to conflict with China.

President Biden raised eyebrows last month by saying the United States would respond militarily to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, in an apparent shift from Washington’s long-standing stance of strategic ambiguity. Biden made similar comments in the past, but his staff walked them back. On Saturday, Austin pointedly reiterated the White House position.

Austin said the United States was working to increase communication with China to “strengthen the guard rails against conflict” and decrease risk of miscalculation on either side.

“Great powers should be models of transparency and communication,” he said.

Read More

Related Posts