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Beijing’s Reaction Was Strong as US Raised Sensitive Controversy

Following the offline talks between the US and Chinese defense ministers at the Shangri-La Dialogue, US Defense Secretary Austin delivered a speech on 11 June in which he bluntly accused China of being “increasingly coercive and provocative” in the Indo-Pacific region and mentioned the East China Sea issue and the Sino-Indian border dispute for the first time.

Austin cited the ‘unsafe and unprofessional’ manner of encounters between China and other countries’ aircraft and ships, the number of which has increased alarmingly. Austin cited the example of Australian patrol planes being lasered at by Chinese naval vessels and said the PLA was conducting dangerous interceptions of allied aircraft flying legally in the East and South China Seas.

For his part, Canadian Defense Minister Anand reiterated his criticism of China’s move to harass Canadian patrol planes on 11.

In response to Austin’s statement, Zhang Zhenzhong, deputy chief of staff of the Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department, stated that the area in question was in China’s Xisha and Nansha connecting sea and airspace, not in the adjacent sea and airspace of the US allies and that the Chinese military action was a necessary response to the countries’ provocations and was entirely justified, beneficial, safe, and prudent.

Zhang criticized the United States for advocating great power rivalry, inciting military confrontation, sending ships and planes to flaunt their power in the South China Sea, exercising navigational hegemony, and holding highly targeted military exercises with allied countries to raise tensions in the region, saying, “This is not a breach of peace, what is it?”

Lieutenant General He Lei, former vice president of the Academy of Military Sciences, stated on 11 November that Austin’s accusation that PLA warplanes were intercepting allied warplanes was clearly a “cliquish” act, paying lip service to the region’s common interests by maintaining freedom and openness, but in reality, it was a targeted and exclusive cliquish act.

According to He Lei, Austin’s speech at the conference was one of the most blatant and comprehensive slanderous attacks on China among all US defense secretaries’ speeches at the incense conference, covering Taiwan, the South China Sea, the East China Sea issue, and even mentioning the Sino-Indian border dispute.

He also said that Austin portrayed the United States as a “friend of the Asia-Pacific region,” exaggerated its contribution to regional prosperity and peace, and boasted about regional development in his speech. Simultaneously, his so-called Indo-Pacific strategy depicts China as a regional peacebreaker who “coerces smaller countries by force” and “unilaterally changes the status quo.”

The Voice of America reported that the offline meeting between the US and Chinese defense ministers had piqued international interest, with experts on China and international relations tweeting a preliminary analysis of the meeting, pointing out that US Defense Secretary Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe are not on equal footing.

According to Washington Post columnist Shi Yu, the two vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission have higher status than Wei Fenghe, and University of Washington Law School professor Guo Danqing said that Wei Fenghe is not even in the chain of command.

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Tags: #China #Asia #United States


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