In his speech last week in Singapore on the security situation in Southeast Asia, the Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinUS Cannot Let China Think It Will Give Up Taiwan Overnight Defense: First Group Of Afghan Evacuees Arrives In Virginia | Biden signs Capitol Hill security funding bill and pays custody back | Pentagon raises health protection standards weeks after lowering it China moves quickly to replace America in Afghanistan MORE reiterated the Biden administration’s emphasis on the need for multinational cooperation to address challenges from China and North Korea.
“I am here to represent a new American administration, but also to reaffirm lasting American commitments”, he said. “… I came to Southeast Asia to deepen America’s ties with the allies and partners upon which our common security depends. Our network of alliances and friendships is an unrivaled strategic asset. And I never take an ally for granted.
The latter point reflected the accusation that the Trump administration ignored US allies and strategic partners in the region. While Trump may have viewed them as heavy hitters, the people he chose and empowered to implement U.S. national security policy certainly did not share this view.
Austin’s speech was an opportunity to allay some of the doubts about his own handling of Pentagon politics. Upon his appointment, he acknowledged that his military experience in the Middle East had left him unfamiliar with security challenges in the Indo-Pacific, and he promised to be a quick learner of our “threat of stimulation“Or, more recently, our”rhythm challenge“from China.
But one of Austin’s first major policy decisions was a serious step back from the Trump administration’s backlash against Communist Chinese espionage and technology theft. In May, he reversed the listing by its predecessor of the Chinese technology giant Xiaomi among the “Communist Chinese military enterprises” which are no longer eligible for direct or indirect investment in the United States.
Then, in June, Austin appeared before the House Armed Services Committee with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marc MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: First Afghan Evacuee Group Arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol Hill security funding bill and pays custody back | Pentagon raises level of health protection weeks after lowering Watchdog warns US will repeat Afghanistan’s mistakes Adaptability remains constant – even as ‘war character’ changes MORE. Milley essentially dismissed China’s “short term, next 12, 24 months” threat against Taiwan because, he said, China was not yet capable of a large land invasion. scale, the only aggressive Chinese move he and possibly Austin was considering.
Beyond Capabilities, Milley was asked about Beijing’s intentions. “Do they intend to attack our seas in the short term to fight us in the next year or two?” My assessment, and based on what I have seen at the moment, is no, ”he said. “It can always change. Intention is something that can change quickly.
He said Taiwan is not just China’s main concern. “It is also a fundamental US national security interest to ensure that everything that happens with regard to Taiwan is peaceful and that we do not have a general conflict in the region or in the world. We support, with the Taiwan Relations Act, et cetera … a peaceful resolution of the problem between Taiwan and China.
Milley noted the continuity of the Trump-Biden administrations on Chinese policy: “China is the stimulus threat to us in uniform, the United States. And this has been led now by the Secretary of Defense, the President, and the previous one as well. So we are adapting our capabilities, our programs, our training, our skills, our activities, et cetera, militarily with China in mind. “
Austin agreed with Milley’s overall assessment and was asked why Biden’s defense budget did not include funding requests for “a lot of the main needs identified in the. . . [Indo-Pacific Command] report. ”Austin replied that the Department of Defense (DOD) intended to fund all requests from the Indo-Pacific Command.
“China is the toughest competitor we will face, so we need to prepare. … As we do… it prepares us for other things as well. We will see threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and we will continue to see a threat from transnational terrorism. … There is always something we hadn’t really seen, but we were prepared to face it because we were preparing to face the most difficult threat.
In Singapore, he said: “[W]e face a series of challenges in this region that demand common action … the specter of coercion from rising powers … the nuclear dangers of North Korea … the struggles against repression within from countries like Myanmar … and leaders who ignore the rule of law and abuse the basic rights and dignity that all people deserve.
China, which Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was visiting at the time, was not said to be involved in all of these issues. Austin noted: “President BidenJoe BidenThe Hill’s Morning Report – Brought to you by Facebook – White House Democrats play blame game on evictions GOP skepticism hangs over bipartisan spending deal Biden vaccine rule sets the stage for legal attack MORE made it clear that the United States will lead diplomacy. And the Department of Defense will be there to provide the determination and assurance that US diplomats can use to help prevent the conflict from erupting in the first place. “
It is not known whether Sherman felt fortified by Biden’s defense strategy in his “frank and open»Talks with the Chinese. But neither she in Beijing nor Austin in Singapore delivered the only deterrent message that would accomplish the greatest good over the region’s most dangerous military flashpoint – that America will defend the South Asian country – East Taiwan against Chinese aggression.
Austin did not include Taiwan in his general litany of common dangers at all, and paid little attention to it in his speech. After describing the important examples of regional security cooperation – with Japan, Singapore, Australia, Korea – he added: commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, and consistent with our One China policy.
Taipei weather reported the statement of appreciation from the Taiwanese Foreign Office which tactfully described Washington’s support for security a little differently:Six insurances‘, while engaging with its allies to stress the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
In addition to skipping the “six assurances” that President Reagan gave to Taiwan, Austin only considered one of the two security mandates of the Taiwan Relations Act: the obligation of the United States to provide weapons for Taiwanese self-defense. He failed to mention the requirement that Washington “maintain the ability of the United States to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion” against Taiwan.
Each administration since Jimmy carterJimmy Carter Polling missed the shot in 2020 – and it’s a lesson for journalists and pundits Remembering the Carter era – and what it tells us today Soaring inflation hangs over the agenda economical from Biden PLUSdownplayed this language because it implies that the United States will directly defend Taiwan. This is precisely the object of the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Law (TIPA), which Trump let die in the last Congress – and which Biden has let languish in this one so far. TIPA stands for deterrence.
Austin had a solid accomplishment during his visit to the Indo-Pacific. After meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the two announced that the letter terminating the visiting forces deal was now retired and bilateral security cooperation will continue uninterrupted.
Joseph Bosco was National Director of China for the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and Asia-Pacific Director of Humanitarian and Disaster Relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a non-resident researcher at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and member of the Advisory Board of the Global Taiwan Institute. Follow him on twitter @BoscoJosephA.