In his address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the US’ strong opposition to coercion and bullying of its allies and partners by China. He emphasized that Washington remains dedicated to maintaining the status quo in Taiwan and expressed a preference for dialogue rather than conflict.
Austin urged support for the US vision of a “free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific within a world of rules and rights.” As the most effective strategy to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the region. Moreover, the US has been actively expanding its activities in the Indo-Pacific. Including regular sailings and flyovers in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, in response to China’s sweeping territorial claims.
The Secretary of Defence reiterated the US commitment to upholding international law. Ensuring that every country has the freedom to conduct lawful maritime activities. Austin emphasized that irrespective of a nation’s size. All countries should have the right to fly, sail, and operate within the boundaries defined by international law.
Austin highlighted the US’s contributions to the region. Including the provision of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses. An active engagement in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance efforts. Along with combating climate change, tackling illegal fishing, and safeguarding supply chains. Meanwhile, he emphasized the US’s commitment to its alliances and partnerships.
Opposes Unilateral Changes, and Calls for Dialogue with China
The Secretary of Defence stated that the US remains dedicated to deterring North Korea’s missile threat and China’s claims on Taiwan. He mentioned increased defence planning, coordination, and training with partner nations in the region to address these challenges.
While affirming the US’s adherence to the longstanding one-China policy, Austin also stressed the opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. He highlighted that conflicts such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscore the dangers of powerful nations invading their peaceful neighbours without consequences.
Austin emphasized that conflict is neither imminent nor inevitable. And the focus should be on maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. He expressed disappointment that China’s defence minister, Gen. Li Shangfu. Declined his invitation to hold substantive discussions, highlighting the need for more meaningful engagement.
The Secretary of Defence reiterated calls, echoed by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, for China to engage in regular and direct communications to prevent potential conflicts. Austin emphasized that responsible defence leaders should be willing to engage in dialogue at any time. Stressing the urgency of initiating discussions with China.