Austin reaffirms US commitment to the Indo-Pacific region

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks at the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue Summit in Singapore on June 1, 2024.

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SINGAPORE – The United States remains vital to the future of the Indo-Pacific region, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said is “more vital than ever” to the US.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin said Washington’s continued commitment to the region has been a “stepping stone” that has enabled transformative growth in the region.

‘We are all there. No, we’re not going anywhere.’

He believed that both the US and this region are “safer and more prosperous when we work together,” pointing to partnerships in the region, including with the Philippines, Australia and Japan.

Austin said the region is seeing a “new convergence” around almost all aspects of security in the Indo-Pacific.

This “convergence,” he explained, is not an alliance or coalition. Instead, Austin describes it as a series of overlapping and complementary initiatives and institutions, driven by a shared vision and a sense of mutual obligation.

“This new convergence is about coming together and not about falling apart. It is not about imposing the will of one country. It’s not about bullying or coercion. It is about the free choices of sovereign states. It’s about notions of goodwill coalescing around the interests we share and the values ​​we cherish,” Austin said.

Some of these values, he said, include respect for sovereignty and international law, freedom of the sea and air, as well as “the peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue, and not through coercion or conflict.” And certainly not through so-called punishment. .”

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Although Austin did not mention China directly during his speech, China had launched “punishment exercises” in Taiwan on May 23, three days after the inauguration of Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te.

Beijing claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory and has branded Lai a “separatist.”

NATO in the Indo-Pacific

During the question and answer portion, Austin was asked by Colonel Cao Yanzhong of China whether the US was trying to build a “NATO-lite” alliance in the region, stating that NATO’s eastern expansion in Europe led to Russia’s Ukraine war. conflict.

“I respectfully disagree with your point that NATO expansion caused the crisis in Ukraine,” Austin responded, drawing applause from the audience.

He blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin, pointing out that “the crisis in Ukraine was clearly caused by Putin’s decision to unlawfully invade his neighboring country, which at the time had an inferior army.”

“He assumed that he could very quickly overthrow his neighbor and annex the country. That was over two years ago. He has not achieved any of his strategic objectives so far. But this came about because of a decision by Mr. S. Putin.”

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Asked whether the US was planning to create a NATO-style coalition in the Indo-Pacific region, Austin explained that the goal is to work with like-minded countries to create a common vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. “

“We have strengthened relationships with our allies and partners, and we see other countries strengthening their relationships with each other in the region.

“This is good news, but that is because they have a common vision and common values. And we will continue to do things like this in the future,” he concluded.

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In addition, Austin was also asked by a reporter whether the US would consider the death of a Philippine national in the South China Sea an act of war, referring to a question posed to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday. was stated. Marcos had responded that if there was a death by deliberate action, it would be “very, very close to what we define as an act of war.”

The US Defense Secretary said that while he will not speculate on hypothetical situations, Washington’s commitment to the mutual defense treaty is “ironclad.”

“No questions asked, no exceptions,” Austin said.

Still, he said the US would try to ensure such a situation does not arise by promoting dialogue and ensuring countries work together to promote freedom of the seas and airspace.

“There are some things that can happen at sea or in the air. We recognize that. But our goal is to make sure that we don’t allow things to get out of hand unnecessarily,” Austin said.

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