US denounces China's 'destabilizing' activity near Taiwan

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks in Singapore – AFP

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday denounced China’s “provocative and destabilizing” military activity near Taiwan, a day after Beijing said it would not hesitate to go to war if the island declared independence. .

“We see increasing coercion from Beijing. We have witnessed a progressive increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,” Austin said at the Shangri-la Dialogue, a security forum held in Singapore.

“This includes aircraft flying close to Taiwan in record numbers in recent months and almost daily.”

At the same time, Austin highlighted the importance of keeping “lines of communication fully open with China’s defense authorities” to avoid miscalculations.

According to an official spokesman, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told Austin Friday on the sidelines of the forum that “if anyone dares to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will not hesitate to launch a war, whatever the cost.”

The minister also said that Beijing would “crush” any attempt at independence on the island and would defend “with determination the unification of the motherland”.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry called China’s claims “absurd.”

“Taiwanese will not give in to the Chinese government’s threats to use force,” a statement said.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have increased in recent months over Taiwan, an island with a democratic government and de facto separated from China since 1949, when nationalists defeated by Mao Zedong’s communists took refuge there.

Beijing considers this island of 24 million inhabitants as one of its provinces and frequently reiterates the objective of recovering it, including from outside if necessary, at some point.

Since arriving at the White House, US President Joe Biden has expressed strong support for Taiwan and last month appeared to break decades of Washington’s ambiguity by saying he would defend the island militarily in the event of an attack from China.

“We categorically oppose any unilateral change of the status quo by any party,” Austin said Saturday. “Our policy has not changed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s the case for China,” he added.

During Xi Jinping’s rule, China increased pressure on the island and intensified incursions by military planes near Taiwan.

Last year, Taiwan recorded 969 incursions by Chinese warplanes into the air defense zone, according to an AFP tally, more than double the 380 in 2020.

In Saturday’s speech, the Pentagon chief also criticized China for its “coercive and aggressive strategy in its territorial claims”.

Beijing claims sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, an area rich in resources – and through which trillions of dollars of goods pass through each year – that is disputed with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The two powers also have differences over the war in Ukraine, in which Washington accuses Beijing of tacitly supporting Moscow.

“The invasion of Russia is what happens when the oppressors step on the norms that protect everyone,” the Pentagon chief said.

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