U.S. Defence Secretary expresses concern over China’s unwillingness to engage in military crisis management

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3rd June 2023 – (Hong Kong) United States Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has expressed concern over China’s reluctance to engage in military crisis management talks, warning that dialogue is crucial to prevent conflict. The two countries have been deeply divided over issues ranging from the sovereignty of Taiwan to espionage and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and their relationship is at its lowest point in decades. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s top security summit, Austin emphasized the importance of open lines of communication between US and Chinese defense and military leaders to avoid conflict and boost stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Austin said, “I am deeply concerned that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management between our two militaries. The more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict.” However, China’s Minister of National Defence, Li Shangfu, declined an invitation to meet Austin at the security summit, and instead, he will deliver his own speech on Sunday.

Austin further stated that a “cordial handshake over dinner is no substitute for a substantive engagement,” referring to his meeting with Li on Friday, where they only shook hands but did not hold detailed talks. China’s reluctance to engage in crisis management talks with the US has raised concerns that a conflict between the two superpowers might be imminent. US military officials have previously revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged his armed forces to develop the capabilities for a possible invasion of Taiwan by 2027, which has added to tensions between the two countries.

Austin stressed that the US is committed to preserving the status quo in Taiwan and opposes unilateral changes from either side. He cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an example of how dangerous the world would become if big countries could invade their peaceful neighbours with impunity. Under President Joe Biden, the US has been strengthening its ties with allies in Asia, including Australia, Japan, India, the Philippines, and Taiwan, while China has been critical of a deal announced by Australia in March to purchase US nuclear-powered submarines.