Pentagon chief warns Taiwan war would be ‘devastating’

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Washington must upgrade its “force posture” in the Indo-Pacific to better confront Beijing and Pyongyang, Lloyd Austin said

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said an armed conflict over Taiwan would be disastrous, urging China to retain the status quo toward the island while vowing to boost America’s military presence in the region.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue defense conference in Singapore on Saturday, Austin outlined Washington’s “vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” He argued that President Joe Biden prefers to avoid conflict with Beijing, but said he will “categorically oppose” any efforts to change the status quo.  

“Make no mistake: conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating. So we are determined to maintain peace and stability,” Austin said, adding that “The United States does not seek a new Cold War.” 

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FILE PHOTO: Chinese Defense Minister General Li Shangfu during a meeting in New Delhi, India, April 28, 2023.
China clarifies stance on Taiwan reunification

However, while he insisted Asia must never be “split into hostile blocs,” the defense secretary went on to describe plans to dramatically step up American military operations in the region, boasting that Biden’s 2024 budget is the “largest procurement request” in US history, including a 40% increase to the Pentagon’s China-focused “Pacific Deterrence Initiative.” 

Austin went on to declare that Washington would enhance coordination and joint military training with a long list of regional partners, “from the East China Sea to the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean,” including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and others. 

“We’re working closely with our allies to upgrade our force posture in the region. We’re making our presence more distributed, more agile and more resilient,” he continued.

The Biden administration has adopted an increasingly hostile stance toward Beijing, repeatedly labeling China as America’s top competitor while expanding US military activity in the region. In addition to new cooperation with Asian allies, the president has sent US warships through the Taiwan Strait on a near-monthly basis for “freedom of navigation” transits since taking office in 2021, ignoring numerous warnings from Chinese officials. 

READ MORE: US defense chief sounds alarm over China row

Under its “One China” policy, Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of its sovereign territory, maintaining its right to reunify with the island by force if necessary. Though Washington does not formally recognize Taipei as an independent nation, the US regularly holds high-level meetings with Taiwanese officials and has approved arms sales worth billions of dollars in recent years. 

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