SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday (Jun 11) contained “many unfounded accusations” against China, said senior Chinese military officer Lieutenant General Zhang Zhenzhong.
Both sides traded barbs at Asia’s premier security meeting in Singapore, with Austin earlier blasting China’s “provocative, destabilising” military activity near Taiwan, as well as Beijing’s growing aggression across the wider Asia-Pacific region.
Beijing has conducted dozens of incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone this year, and on Friday, Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned Austin that China was prepared to go to war if the island declares independence.
In an address to the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday, Austin took aim at Beijing’s “growing coercion” towards Taiwan, a day after holding his first face-to-face talks with Wei.
“We’ve witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan,” he told the forum, which is attended by defence ministers from Asia and around the world.
“That includes (Chinese military) aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months, and nearly on a daily basis,” he added.
“We categorically oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side.”
Zhang, vice chief of the joint staff department of China’s Central Military Commission, called Austin’s speech a “confrontation”.
“There were many unfounded accusations against China. We expressed our strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to these false accusations,” Zhang told reporters.
“The United States is trying to form a small circle in the Asia-Pacific region by roping in some countries to incite against some other countries. What should we call this other than confrontation?”
Austin said there had been an “alarming” increase in the number of unsafe and unprofessional encounters between Chinese planes and vessels with those of other countries.
Australia has said a Chinese fighter aircraft dangerously intercepted one of its military surveillance planes in the South China Sea region in May, and Canada’s military has accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its patrol aircraft as they monitor North Korea’s sanctions evasions.
Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand also spoke out against China.
“The interceptions by the Chinese of our (aircraft) are very concerning and unprofessional and we need to ensure that the safety and security of our pilots are not at risk, especially when they are simply monitoring as required under UN-sanctioned missions,” Anand told Reuters in an interview.
New Zealand voiced concern about Chinese attempts to gain influence in the Pacific islands.
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said it was reasonable to expect China to make clear it did not support the invasion of a sovereign country in violation of the UN Charter.
“That China has not done so should give us cause for concern, especially given the investments it is making in military power,” he said at the meeting.
In his speech, Austin said the United States would continue to stand by its allies, including Taiwan.
“That’s especially important as the PRC (People’s Republic of China) adopts a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims,” he said.
China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has vowed to take it by force if necessary.