US defense chief warns incidents with Chinese military could ‘spin out of control’

by The Insights

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has called on Beijing to resume bilateral security talks, warning that the incidents could “spin out of control” if the Chinese military continues to take provocative action in the waters and international airspace.

At a press conference in Tokyo, Austin said he was “unfortunate” that Beijing had refused the Pentagon’s request to meet Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu at a security forum in Singapore this week. .

“I’m worried about . . . have an incident that could very, very quickly spiral out of control,” Austin said following a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada on Thursday. “I think the defense departments should talk to each other on a regular basis.”

The warning comes as Austin prepares to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue safety forum in Singapore, where the issue of unsafe maneuvers is likely to be discussed. The Pentagon on Tuesday accused a Chinese fighter jet of performing an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” near a US military aircraft over the South China Sea last week.

Prior to the same forum a year ago, the United States had raised concerns about the growing number of incidents of Chinese aircraft allegedly carrying out alarming operations near American, Canadian and Australian aircraft. US officials had raised the issue with their counterparts during Austin’s meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.

“We are deeply concerned about the [People’s Republic of China] coercive behavior and its attempts to undermine the rules-based international order,” Austin said.

US defense officials have warned that the lack of engagement between the military amid rising geopolitical tensions means they lack a crisis communications mechanism in the event of an accident at sea or in the air. . In 2001, an American spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet off Hainan Island, forcing the American plane to make an emergency landing.

Hamada also stressed the importance of maintaining dialogue with China, pointing to the defense hotline that Tokyo and Beijing began operating last month to minimize the risk of accidental confrontation between their armies, according to a Defense Ministry official. .

Beijing has rejected a meeting between Austin and Li at the Shangri-La dialogue this year because the United States has not lifted sanctions against its top defense official.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Li in 2018 in connection with China’s purchase of Russian fighters and missiles. The Pentagon had previously informed Beijing that the sanctions did not ban a meeting in Singapore, but Chinese officials said that would be inappropriate as long as the sanctions remained in place.

The United States and Japan also discussed on Thursday working together to develop hypersonic missile defense capabilities using interceptors and enhancing cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance using drones. Austin said countries would also cooperate on defense supply chains to deepen ties between their industrial bases.

A day after North Korea’s failed attempt to launch a reconnaissance satellite into space, Hamada said the sides agreed to boost training and other areas of cooperation with allies including North Korea. South and Australia.

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