Taiwan war would be ‘devastating’ for world: Lloyd Austin

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Defense chiefs from around the world gathered in Singapore for Asia’s largest security forum to discuss major threats as tensions rise between the US and China. 

In a speech Saturday kicking off the second day of the Shangri-La Dialogue, which brings together more than 600 military leaders, policy makers and analysts from 40 nations, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin warned China that a conflict over Taiwan would be “devastating” and chided Beijing for failing to engage in substantive dialogue. 

At a dinner Friday night, Austin shook hands with his Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, who had declined a formal meeting unless the US removed sanctions placed on him. 

Austin spoke as the US Navy conducted a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait, a move that China regularly finds provocative. The action showed the potential for miscalculation between the two sides as relations remain strained over Taiwan, US curbs on advanced chips and Beijing’s diplomatic support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Reznikov’s pointed remark on Russia’s war (6:36 p.m.)

Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov ended one of the final panels on Saturday with a pointed remark about China’s influence over Russia that was aimed at former Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai, who was seated next to him. 

Reznikov said he believed there was a new understanding between Russia and China after President Xi Jinping visited Moscow earlier this year, with Beijing becoming the “older brother” in the relationship between the two nations. 

“Could you say to your younger brother to stop killing Ukrainians,” Reznikov said in his concluding remarks.

Former China envoy criticizes US and Europe (5:20 p.m.)

Former envoy to the US Cui Tiankai criticized Europe’s mismanagement of its own security situation, urging it instead to learn from Asia. “The best thing you can do for us is to do nothing,” Cui said, addressing Europe and America.

“We should also learn something very important something from your lack of success” in managing the security situation, he said. “We don’t need an Asian NATO.”

China has long sympathized with Russia’s reasons for invading Ukraine, particularly to push back against NATO, while opposing the war itself. The US has repeatedly said it’s not looking to create a version of NATO in Asia, even as it strengthens alliances to deter China from taking Taiwan and other disputed territory by force.

Ukraine Minister Brushes Off Indonesian Peace Plan (5:03 p.m.)

Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the country doesn’t need the “strange” peace plan offered by his Indonesian counterpart during an earlier panel discussion. 

“It sounds like a Russian plan, not an Indonesian plan,” Reznikov said, referring to the proposal put forward by Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. “We need to win this war, after that we will negotiate with the Kremlin regime or new leader.” 

Prabowo said his plan would involve freezing Russian and Ukrainian forces in place and creating a demilitarized zone between them. 

Austin, Li listen to one another speak over lunch (3:30p.m.)

Austin and Chinese counterpart Li listened to one another speak during a ministerial lunch, Singapore’s Minister for Defense Ng Eng Hen told reporters. The two defense leaders haven’t held a direct meeting, but Ng said he thought their presence at the forum could go some way to helping resume physical talks at some point.

The fact that they sat on the same table last night, that they sat across each other over lunch and heard each other speak, you have “a measure of the man, the thinking, the proclivities, the temperament,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll add to the databank when they do finally engage.”

China Says US ‘Deceiving and Exploiting’ Region (2:40 p.m.)

An official with China’s Central Military Commission pushed back on Austin’s criticisms of China’s actions in Asia and said the US is “deceiving and exploiting regional countries.” 

“The US pursues its selfish interest, regardless of other countries’ aspirations for stability and good order, and uses them as a pawn by cajolement and coercion,” said Jing Jianfeng, deputy chief of the joint staff department of the Central Military Commission. “Fundamentally, this is to maintain the system of US supremacy and hegemony.”

Tan went on to defend China’s military exercises around Taiwan, saying they are targeted at separatist forces “and the interference of external forces,” a reference to the US. 

UK Praises Positive Talks With China (1:43 p.m.)

UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace emerged from an hour-long conversation with China’s delegation saying talks were productive and that he looked forward to visiting the country soon, without saying when that trip would occur. 

The two sides discussed “freedom of navigation, Taiwan, deepening engagement,” Wallace told reporters afterwards. Echoing US comments, Wallace said “it’s important to communicate and have clear lines of discussion.” 

The defense chief added that he was “grateful” for China’s efforts to “restrain Russia on Ukraine,” adding that the war in Europe showed “the importance of always having a route to try and deconflict or indeed to understand each other’s intentions.” 

Indonesia Says Asia Knows Costs of War (1:12 p.m.)

Indonesia Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto passionately defended a new peace proposal for Ukraine that would leave Russian forces locked in place, saying Asian nations know the costs of war as well or better than their European counterparts. 

The two-time presidential candidate said Indonesia wasn’t trying to take sides on who is right or wrong in the conflict, and he reiterated that his nation voted at the United Nations to oppose Russia’s invasion. 

“Ask our Vietnamese friends, our Vietnamese brothers, ask our Cambodian brothers, ask them how many times they’ve been invaded,” Prabowo said. “Ask Indonesians how many times they’ve been invaded. We know war.”

Australia Says US Allies Can Have Good China Ties (12:52 p.m.)

Australia seeks to balance its economic and security relationship with China even as it maintains a longstanding defense alliance with the US at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions, according to Defense Minister Richard Marles.

“How you navigate those two things is complex, it’s not obvious, it requires discussion,” Marles said in an interview in Singapore Saturday with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin. “We can be an ally of the United States and we can build a productive relationship with China. We firmly believe that is possible and that’s the line we seek to pursue.”

Chinese Delegate Says Austin Looked ‘Agitated’ (12:04 p.m.)

Zhao Xiaozhuo, a senior fellow with the Institute of War Studies affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, said that Austin’s remarks on not meeting with Li showed “he cared a lot and he was a bit agitated.”

“Talking is possible, but do not bring the aggressive attitude,” he said. “The US should stop containing China, especially stop interfering with China’s internal affairs on the Taiwan issue. Then China is willing to talk.”

Zhao added that the military hotline between the nations was open and communication can take place at anytime.

Indonesia Presents Ukraine Peace Plan (11:36 a.m.)

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, a two-time presidential candidate, presented a new peace proposal that included similar elements to one unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

The proposal included a cease-fire and a withdrawal from key positions to create a new dimilitarized zone enforced by troops under the authority of the United Nations. The UN would then conduct a referendum in disputed areas, Prabowo said. 

Ukraine and its backers have rejected any proposal that would allow Russia to consolidate territorial gains. 

UK Touts Importance of Indo-Pacific Trade Deal (10:59 a.m.)

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace touted the importance of the country’s bid to join an Indo-Pacific trade deal that American politicians have spurned after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from talks in 2017. 

Free trade and openness have benefited billions of people in the region, Wallace said in speaking about the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The UK has concluded negotiations to join the agreement and is waiting to officially sign up. 

“I would say either, you’re in it or you’re not,” Wallace said of the trade deal. “We’re in it, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure we live up to the spirit.”

China Says It Won’t ‘Take Orders’ From US (10:42 a.m.)

A Chinese military official said it was “unfair” for the US to maintain sanctions on China’s defense minister, adding that the Biden administration bore “full responsibility” for the lack of a high-level meeting in Singapore. 

“Now the US keeps challenging China’s bottom line and destroying the US-China relationship,” He Lei, a lieutenant general with the People’s Liberation Army, told reporters at the Shangri-La Dialogue. “With such an atmosphere, a meeting between the Chinese and the US ministers during the dialogue doesn’t have a mature time or correct condition.”

He said a handshake between Li and Austin showed the “flexibility” of the Chinese side, but it was necessary for the US to “correct it’s wrongdoings.” He added that mid-level talks were still taking place between the two nations.

Noting that Austin’s speech appeared more moderate than at last year’s gathering, He said the US still shouldn’t be commenting on Taiwan or the South China Sea — something no US administration would do. 

“China won’t take orders during its peaceful rise,” He said.

US Conducts Transit Through Taiwan Strait (10:26 a.m.)

The US Navy is conducting a transit through the Taiwan Strait as military leaders gather in Singapore for a regional defense meeting, according to an official who asked not to be identified said Saturday. 

Philippines Warns Over Return of ‘Iron Curtain’ (10:03 a.m.)

A senior defense official of the Philippines expressed concern that growing distrust would lead to the return of the “Iron Curtain.” 

“Decoupling amid the declining state of goodwill in the region would only serve to bring about the return of the Iron Curtain that will undermine any potential or confidence building and cooperation between and among us,” said Carlito Galvez Jr, senior undersecretary at the Department of National Defense in the Philippines.

Pentagon Chief Chides China Over Lack of Talks (9:28 a.m.)

Austin used a speech at Asia’s biggest security conference to warn that a conflict over Taiwan would “affect the global economy in ways that we cannot imagine” while reiterating calls for greater communication between the American and Chinese militaries. 

“Make no mistake: conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating,” Austin said. “The whole world has a stake in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the whole world. The security of commercial shipping lanes and global supply chains depends on it.”

Read more: Pentagon Chief Warns China on Taiwan, Says Time For Talks is Now

“For responsible defense leaders, the time to talk is every time, and the right time to talk is now,” Austin added. “I’m deeply concerned that the PRC has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management between our two militaries. But I hope that will change, and soon.” 

Asked during a question-and-answer session about China’s growing stock of nuclear weapons, Austin again referred to the lack of talks: “As soon as they answer the phone maybe we’ll get some work done.”

Austin Hails US Alliances, Partnerships (8:45 a.m.)

Austin lauded the US’s moves to strengthen alliances and partnerships across the Indo-Pacific region, telling delegates the Biden administration is “working together with our friends more closely every day.” 

He noted the US was stepping up coordination and training throughout the region, touting cooperation with India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore in addition to traditional American treaty allies. 

“Around the region, countries are matching their words with their actions, insisting on resolving differences through dialogue, and calling for even closer cooperation,” Austin said.

Albanese Says War Not ‘Pre-Ordained’ (9:02 p.m.)

Albanese called for the US and China to boost dialogue in his keynote address to the forum. He and warned that it was harmful to assume war between the two powers was “inevitable.”

“The fate of our region is not preordained. It never was and it never is,” he said.

US, China Defense Chiefs Shake Hands (8:08 p.m.)

Austin and Li briefly shook hands and exchanged words before Albanese’s speech. They were seated at the same table for the event. 

A senior US defense official said the handshake was good, but no substitute for sitting down and having a meaningful exchange. Their next meeting should be a serious and substantive dialogue, the official said. 

–With assistance from Alfred Cang, Xiao Zibang, Jamie Tarabay and Peter Martin.



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