Updated: June 12, 2022 6:27:30 am
China has continued to harden its positions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin said Saturday, days after a top US Army general expressed alarm over Beijing’s border infrastructure build-up.
He also flagged China’s “destabilising” military activity near Taiwan and its aggressive approach to the territories it claims in the South China Sea, saying this threatens to undermine the stability of the Indo-Pacific region.
Speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue — a security conference organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore, in which top Chinese leaders are also present — Austin stated: “We are seeing Beijing continue to harden its position along the border that it shares with India.”
Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a border standoff in eastern Ladakh since May 5, 2020, when a violent clash between the two sides erupted in the Pangong lake area. China has also been building bridges and constructing other infrastructure such as roads and residential units in the border areas with India.
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Austin said: “Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion or harassment by maritime militias.”
“In the East China Sea, China’s expanding fishing fleet is sparking tensions with its neighbors. In the South China Sea, China is using outposts on man-made islands bristling with advanced weaponry to advance its illegal maritime claims,” he said. “We are seeing [Chinese] vessels plunder the region’s provisions, operating illegally within the territorial waters of other Indo-Pacific countries.”
Speaking about India as a partner for the US in the region, Austin said it can be a stabilising force, considering its growing military and tech capability.
Austin also reiterated America’s commitment to maintaining the status quo in Taiwan. “We are seeing growing coercion from Beijing… We have witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan. We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.”
Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it.
Austin said: “China’s moves threaten to undermine security, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. That’s crucial for this region, and it’s crucial for the wider world. Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn’t just a US interest. It’s a matter of international concern.”
Austin said the US is working closely with both competitors and friends to guard against conflict.
He said this includes “fully open” lines of communication with China’s defense leaders “to ensure that we can avoid any miscalculations”.
Austin and China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe held a bilateral meeting on Friday on the sidelines of the event.
Austin’s remarks come after General Charles A Flynn, Commanding General of United States Army Pacific, said in Delhi on June 8: “I believe that the activity level (by China) is eye-opening. I think some of the infrastructure that is being created in the Western Theatre Command is alarming.”
The People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command is responsible for patrolling the 3,488-km long border with India.
The next day, China responded to Flynn’s comment by stating that he was fanning a fire. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a press briefing: “Some US officials have pointed fingers and sought to fan the flame and drive a wedge between the two countries.”
Calling it disgraceful, Zhao had said: “We hope the US could do more things that contribute to regional peace and stability.”
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