US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has called on China to engage in talks to avoid unintended clashes between the two countries’ militaries.
Austin while delivering a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday noted that ‘conflict is neither imminent nor inevitable’ and lines of communication with China are crucial.
“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,” Austin told the meeting in Singapore.
“The more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict,” he said.
But Chinese military officials including China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu who attended the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore were scathing of Austin’s speech.
Amid China’s escalating maritime activities in the South China Sea, Austin said the United States will continue to work with its allies and partners to uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight.
On the Taiwan issue, he warned that conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating. He said that deterrence is strong today, and it is his country’s job to keep it that way.
Austin said, “The United States does not seek a new Cold War. And competition must not spill over into conflict.”
He added that open lines of communication with China are essential, as the more the two countries talk, the more they can avoid the “misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict.”
Ahead of the dialogue, China declined a US request for a meeting between Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu.
The two exchanged greetings at a dinner the previous day. But the US Defense Department says they did not have a “substantive exchange.”