MELBOURNE, Australia — The U.S. defense secretary has called on allies in the Indo-Pacific to force a new regional order, during his first visit to the area since taking up his post under the Biden administration.
Lloyd Austin was speaking Tuesday in Singapore at the 40th Fullerton Lecture, organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, when he outlined his vision of “integrated deterrence.”
That effort, he said, involves working with partners to deter coercion and aggression across the spectrum of conflict, including in the so-called gray zone that falls below the threshold of an all-out war.
The U.S. should use “every military and nonmilitary tool in our toolbox, in lockstep with our allies and partners. Integrated deterrence is about using existing capabilities and building new ones, and deploying them all in new and networked ways,” he added, “all tailored to a region’s security landscape and in growing partnership with our friends.”
“We’re aiming to coordinate better, to network tighter and to innovate faster. And we’re working to ensure that our allies and partners have the capabilities, the capacities and the information that they need,” he noted.
The Pentagon chief cited American efforts to improve interoperability with regional allies, pointing to a recent large-scale exercise in Japan that culminated with the first-ever firing of a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System on Japanese soil.
Austin also mentioned the exercises Pacific Vanguard as well as Talisman Sabre off Australia, which involved the United States, Japan, Australia and South Korea carrying out “integrated, high-end maritime operations.” He also touched on Singapore’s acquisition of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, which he says will “boost our collective capabilities and open up new opportunities for high-end, combined training.”
Austin specifically mentioned China as an assertive actor in the region, saying that “Beijing’s claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law” and treads on the sovereignty of other states. He reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to its treaty with Japan over the Asian nation’s claim to the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, and to its partnership with the Philippines, which also has competing claims in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, Austin said, the U.S. is “working with Taiwan to enhance its own capabilities and to increase its readiness to deter threats and coercion … upholding our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act.”
He also attacked China’s “unwillingness to resolve disputes peacefully and respect the rule of law” across all domains, accusing the country of having undertaken “aggression against India, destabilizing military activity and other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan, and genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.”
On the coronavirus pandemic, the defense secretary said the U.S. “has been rushing urgently needed assistance across the Indo-Pacific” that includes testing equipment, oxygen supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators and storage for vaccines.
He also outlined the Biden administration’s donation of vaccines to countries in the region, noting that Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Vietnam have received 40 million doses of vaccines from the U.S. and that President Joe Biden is committed to delivering 500 million more doses worldwide over the next year. Austin stressed that the vaccines were delivered free, with “no conditions, no small print and no strings attached.”
Following his visit to Singapore, Austin’s itinerary will next take him to Vietnam and the Philippines.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.