U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin addressed deterring Chinese aggression in Southeast Asia Tuesday through his “integrated deterrence” approach, declaring the U.S. seeks a stable relationship with China while working to resolve common challenges.
Relations between the two world powers have deteriorated sharply in recent years over issues such as the independence of Taiwan and China’s disputed maritime claims in the South China Sea.
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation,” Austin said in a speech in Singapore. “So let me be clear: As secretary, I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”
Austin is the first top official from the Biden administration to visit the region. Austin has not spoken with senior Chinese officials despite numerous attempts since he was confirmed as defense secretary in January.
After talks Tuesday with Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen, the two countries said in a joint statement they discussed regional security issues and “the importance of sustaining a rules-based order,” a major tenet of U.S. foreign policy since Biden took office.
The statement said the defense ministers also talked about potential areas of further cooperation, including cyber defense, humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
Austin’s trip includes further stops in Vietnam and the Philippines.
VOA’s Carla Babb contributed to this report from Singapore.