“We do not seek conflict or confrontation,” Austin said in his address at the Shangri La Dialogue, Asia’s top security summit, in Singapore.
“But we will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion,” he added.
Austin’s remarks were likely aimed at China. China Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu had refused Austin’s requests to meet this week at the summit. However, the two did shake hands on the summit’s sidelines Friday. The Pentagon said the two defense officials did not have a “substantive exchange.”
“I am deeply concerned that the PRC has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management between our two militaries,” Austin said in his speech, using the abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China.
There are several issues that the U.S. and China do not agree on, including territorial disputes regarding the South China Sea and an alleged spy balloon that was shot down by a U.S. fighter plane after the balloon floated across the United States.
Perhaps the most vexing is the issue of Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its own and that it wants to bring under its rule. China has become increasingly aggressive with its moves against Taiwan, setting up a situation that could resemble Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That similarity was not lost on Austin, who said Saturday, “how dangerous our world would become if big countries could just invade their peaceful neighbors with impunity.” He said the United States is “determined to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and so are a number of countries around the world.”
China’s defense minister delivers his address to the summit Sunday.