The United States warned China on Saturday against threatening its neighbours’ sovereignty and said Washington is investing in new military technology to defend its Asian allies.
Washington and Beijing have been vying for influence in the region, which hosts potential flashpoints such as the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait.
Ties between the two powers are once again taking centre stage at the weekend Singapore conference known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which gathers Defence Ministers and top military officials from around the world.
“China can and should have a cooperative relationship with the rest of the region … But behaviour that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end,” acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told the forum. “Until it does, we stand against a myopic, narrow, and parochial vision of the future, and we stand for the free and open order that has benefitted us all, including China.”
Washington has been pushing back against Beijing’s aggressive militarisation of the South China Sea, where China has staked “indisputable” ownership over almost the whole area and rejects partial claims by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
For the first time since 2011, China has sent its Defence Minister, General Wei Fenghe, to the Singapore gathering. Mr. Wei is scheduled to speak on Sunday, when he is expected to respond to Mr. Shanahan’s remarks.
Mr. Shanahan said the U.S. was investing heavily in new military technology to combat fresh threats and maintain its superiority and capability to defend its Asian allies. He said North Korea “remains an extraordinary threat and requires continued vigilance” and stressed Washington would continue to meet its defence obligations to Taiwan. “The Indo-Pacific is our priority theatre. We are where we belong. We are investing in the region,” he said, adding that military investments will rise significantly over the next five years.