China threatens Taiwan, region: US

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Recent Chinese military activity around Taiwan threatens to change the status quo in the region, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has told Asia's premier defence forum while pledging to maintain support for the self-governing island.

Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin noted a "steady increase in provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan", including almost daily military flights near Taiwan by the People's Republic of China.

"Our policy hasn't changed, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be true for the PRC," he said.

Austin said Washington remains committed to the "one-China policy", which recognises Beijing but allows informal relations and defence ties with self-governing Taiwan.

Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it.

China has stepped up its provocations against democratic Taiwan in recent years, apparently aimed at intimidating it into accepting Beijing's demands to unify with the communist mainland.

"We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait," Austin said in his address.

"But the PRC's moves threaten to undermine security, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific."

He drew a parallel with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying the "indefensible assault on a peaceful neighbour has galvanised the world and ... has reminded us all of the dangers of undercutting an international order rooted in rules and respect."

Austin stressed the "rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe".

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all," he said.

"It's what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours.

"And it's a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in."

Austin met on Friday with Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the conference.

Austin made clear at the meeting that while the US does not support Taiwanese independence, it also has major concerns about China's recent behaviour.

Wei, meanwhile, complained to Austin about new American arms sales to Taiwan announced this week, saying it "seriously undermined China's sovereignty and security interests", according to a Chinese state-run CCTV report after the meeting.

China "firmly opposes and strongly condemns it" and the Chinese government and military will "resolutely smash any Taiwan independence plot and resolutely safeguard the reunification of the motherland", Wei reportedly told Austin.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Wu Qian quoted Wei as saying China would respond to any move towards formal Taiwan independence by "smashing it even at any price, including war".

In his speech, Austin said the US stands "firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means", but also would continue to fulfil its commitments to Taiwan.

"That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defence capability," he said.

"And it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardise the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan."

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed US relations with the island, does not require the US to step in militarily if China invades, but makes it policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status by Beijing.

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