Tensions between China and the US continue to escalate as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned of a Ukraine-like crisis in Taiwan, accusing Beijing of pursuing “aggressive” foreign policies after trading threats over the disputed island with his Chinese counterpart.
Delivering a fiery speech in Singapore on Sunday, the Pentagon chief claimed that Washington had “witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,” adding that “The PRC’s moves threaten to undermine security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.”
“That’s crucial for this region, and it’s crucial for the wider world,” he said.
Austin went on to claim that China had disregarded the “rules-based international order” and is following a “more coercive and aggressive” approach to its territorial claims, stating that could spark a Ukraine-like conflict over Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of China-proper.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all. It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors,” he continued, noting “it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”
Though China has rejected any similarities between Taiwan and Ukraine, US officials have repeatedly made the comparison, some even urging Taiwanese officials to look to Ukraine’s alleged “success in fending off Russian forces” as a “playbook for countering China,” according to Politico.
Since President Joe Biden took office, Washington has sent warships through the disputed Taiwan Strait on a monthly basis, triggering a series of harsh reprimands from Beijing. Biden has also approved several rounds of arms sales to Taipei, in line with the policies of his predecessor Donald Trump.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated that the strait falls within China’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, saying its claim is supported by international law. “China enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait while respecting the legitimate rights of other countries in the relevant maritime areas,” he said
The statement followed a rare face-to-face meeting between Austin and China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in Singapore last Friday, where the two reportedly sparred over the Taiwan issue.
“If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs and take all necessary measures to crush any attempt by ‘Taiwan Separatists’ to split Taiwan from the motherland,” Wei said at the meeting, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian.
The official also accused the United States of “interfering in China’s internal affairs” by keeping direct bilateral relations with Taipei, and warned that “No one should ever underestimate the resolve and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity.”
Wei went on to slam Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy during his own speech in Singapore, saying it seeks to “create conflict and confrontation” in the region and “to contain and encircle others.” Toward that end, he said Washington is working to assemble an international anti-China coalition “in the name of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Pentagon has indicated that it does not take China’s warnings seriously and will not end its provocative maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait, with Defense Department spokesperson Martin Meiners recently stating the US military “will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait.”