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US defense secretary affirms Washington's commitments to Taiwan amid growing China threat

Lloyd Austin says US aims to bolster deterrence in Taiwan Strait, not seeking to change status quo

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reiterated Washington’s defense commitments to Taiwan amid increasing Chinese belligerence during a defense forum on Saturday (Dec. 4).

At the Reagan National Defense Forum, Austin said in a speech that China is the only country “capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.” He pointed out that Beijing is on track to become a major U.S. competitor in the Indo-Pacific and “eventually, around the world.”

The defense secretary added that "China's leaders are expanding their ability to project force and to establish a global network of military bases.”

With regard to Taiwan, Austin said the U.S. firmly abides by its one-China policy and its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act “to support Taiwan's ability to defend itself.” The U.S. also maintains a capacity to resist any attempts that threaten the security of Taiwan, he said.

Austin emphasized that the U.S. is working to bolster deterrence and not seeking to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

“We’re also pursuing a more distributed force posture in the Indo-Pacific — one that will help us bolster deterrence and counter coercion and operate forward with our trusted allies and partners,” he said. This involves more joint military exercises and expanding R&D cooperation with regional allies. It also includes “encouraging the helpful and growing security role that our European allies are playing in the region,” Austin said.

The secretary of defense underscored the importance of strengthening the region’s “security architecture,” saying that groups such as the Quad, AUKUS, the Five Eyes, and the trilateral relationship of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea help Washington maintain a presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Austin stressed that Washington is not seeking to establish another iteration of NATO or an anti-China coalition and is not forcing countries to choose between the U.S. and China. He repeated President Joe Biden’s remark last month that the two countries have a responsibility to ensure competition does not escalate into conflict, “whether intended or unintended.”

“We’re going to stick to what President Biden called “simple, straightforward competition,” Austin said.