SINGAPORE -- U.S. Secretary Of Defense Lloyd Austin reiterated American support for Taiwan Saturday at Asia's top defense forum, suggesting that the recent Chinese military activity surrounding Taiwan could change the status quo.
Austin, speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue Singapore, noted that there was a steady increase in provocative military activity near Taiwan. This includes almost daily military flights by the People's Republic of China near Taiwan.
He stated that "our policy hasn’t changed but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be true in the PRC."
Austin stated that Washington is committed to the "one China policy", which recognizes Beijing, but allows informal relations with Taipei and provides defense ties.
China and Taiwan split in 1949 during a civil conflict. However, China claims Taiwan as its territory and is open to using military force to retake it.
China has intensified its military provocations against democratic Taiwan over the past few years in an attempt to intimidate it into accepting Beijing’s demands for unification with the communist mainland.
Austin stated that he was still focused on maintaining peace and stability in Taiwan Strait. "But the PRC moves threaten to undermine security and stability in the Indo-Pacific."
He made a parallel to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and said that the "indefensible attack on a peaceful neighbour has galvanized world opinion and... has brought home the dangers of undermining an international order rooted by rules and respect."
Austin stressed the importance of a rules-based international order in Indo-Pacific just as in Europe.
He said that Russia's invasion invading Ukraine was a result of oppressors breaking the rules that protect all. It's what happens when powerful powers decide their imperial ambitions are more important than the rights and interests of peaceful neighbours. It's a glimpse into a world that could be chaotic and turbulent, something we would all hate to live in.
Austin met Gen. Wei Fenghe, Chinese Defense Minister, Friday on the sidelines to the conference for discussion where Taiwan was prominently discussed, according to a senior American defense officer who spoke on condition of anonymity so that he could provide details about the private meeting.
Austin stated that the U.S. does support Taiwanese independence but has serious concerns about China's behavior in recent times. He suggested that Beijing may be trying to alter the status quo.
Wei complained to Austin after hearing about the new American arms sales to Taiwan this week. According to a CCTV report from China, Wei said it "seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests".
China "firmly opposes" and strongly condemns Taiwan, and the Chinese government will "resolutely squash any Taiwan independence plots and resolutely safeguard reunification of motherland," Wei told Austin.
Col. Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Chinese Defense Ministry, quoted Wei saying that China would respond to any attempt at Taiwan formal independence by "smashing" it "even at any cost, even war."
Austin stated that the U.S. stood "firmly behind" the principle that cross-strait disputes must be resolved peacefully in his speech. However, he also said that the U.S. would continue to honor its commitments to Taiwan.
He stated, "That includes helping Taiwan maintain a sufficient self defense capability."
"And it means that we must maintain our own ability to resist any use force or other forms coercion that could jeopardize security, the economic or social system of the peoples of Taiwan."
The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act governs U.S. relations to Taiwan. It does not require the U.S. military to intervene militarily in the event of an invasion by China, but it makes it American policy that Taiwan has the resources necessary to defend itself, and prevent Beijing from unilaterally changing its status.
Rising from Bangkok