SINGAPORE — Peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits is a matter of international concern and not just an American interest, the U.S. defense secretary said this week at an Asian security forum in Singapore.
Lloyd Austin was speaking at the opening plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, where he again stressed that longstanding U.S. policy had not changed. This includes opposition to Taiwanese independence, although he stressed that the Taiwan Relations Act, the so-called three U.S.-China joint communiques and the Six Assurances policy will still guide American policy.
He also stressed the U.S. government’s determination to uphold the status quo that has served the region well. It’s official U.S. policy to recognize Beijing as representing China and to acknowledge its view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan, although Washington also considers Taiwan’s status as unsettled.
“We categorically oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We do not support Taiwan independence. And we stand firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means,” he added.
Austin also touched on wider Indo-Pacific security in his speech, emphasizing early in his 40-minute speech that he was in the region to listen and to have “great discussions.” He spoke of the power U.S. partnerships with regional nations, which he said are growing, and how they form the core for a peaceful and prosperous world for all.
“The journey that we’ve made together in the past year only underscores a basic truth: In today’s interwoven world, we’re stronger when we find ways to come together,” he said. “And we’re working even more closely with trusted partners as we test game-changing technologies together.”
Discussing the AUKUS partnership — a deal between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. to collaborate on defense technology — Austin reiterated that the agreement will not only deliver nuclear-powered submarines for Australia, but that it also “holds out the promise of progress across a range of emerging tech areas that can bolster our deterrence, from [artificial intelligence] to hypersonics.”
The U.S. is also involved in activities to expand common readiness and deepen interoperability with regional nations, such as the Keen Sword exercise with Japan and the expansion of the upcoming Garuda Shield drills with Indonesia to include 14 nations, such as Australia and Singapore.
Austin drew parallels between the Russian invasion of Ukraine and overall regional security, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “reckless war of choice has reminded us all of the dangers of undercutting an international order rooted in rules and respect.”
“The Ukraine crisis poses some urgent questions for us all: Do rules matter? Does sovereignty matter? Does the system that we have built together matter?” he asked. “I am here because I believe that it does. And I am here because the rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe.”
He noted that this sentiment is shared by some regional countries, given South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have rushed security assistance to Ukraine, while Singapore, Thailand, India and Vietnam provided humanitarian support to Ukraine.
IISS Director-General and Chief Executive John Chipman asked the Pentagon chief if there is a naval solution to Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, which is leading to food insecurity around the world. Austin responded that while the U.S. Navy could deploy ships to the Black Sea to open a route, he preferred to find a diplomatic solution to allowing the export of an estimated 22 million tons of Ukrainian grain through the waterway.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.