To counter China, Austin vows to strengthen alliances with others in the region


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SIMI VALLEY, Calif. – Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said Saturday that the Biden administration would urge both Pacific allies and U.S. corporations to step up their efforts to address the increasingly urgent threat posed by China, and that it does Pentagon said it was ready to help Ukraine defend itself better against Russia as tensions flare up between the two countries.

“America is a Pacific power,” Austin said during a speech at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum, the first face-to-face meeting of defense officials and experts since the coronavirus pandemic began. “We are not asking countries to choose between the United States and China. Instead, we are working on promoting an international system that is free, stable and open. “

In one of his most prominent speeches since the United States withdrew troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war in chaos, Austin made little mention of the past two decades of US military efforts in the Middle East and instead focused almost exclusively on Beijing, whose nuclear , Cyber ​​and economic gains increasingly rocked American officials across three governments.

He broadly outlined his strategy for dealing with China, which he termed “integrated deterrence,” based both on strengthening cooperation with allies and partners in the region and on getting the US tech industry to do so to be one step ahead of Chinese innovations.

The Biden administration has tried carefully both to insist that the United States not come into conflict with China and to recognize that competition between the two countries has intensified. President Biden has refused to lift the Trump administration-initiated tariffs and has continued to press China to honor commitments it made under a trade deal signed in the last few days of the Trump administration.

Panel by panel on Saturday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, the military, defense and security experts rang the alarm bells over China, including its growing military power and attacks on American satellites, as well as economic concerns such as the shortage of American skilled workers to cope with Chinese manufacturing and dominance to keep up, especially in semiconductors.

“There is a real possibility that, in the event of a conflict, there could be attacks on our power grid or our transport sector,” warned Federal Defense Minister Christine Wormuth.

At the same time, the speakers also voiced concerns that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could take advantage of the US’s strong focus on China to quietly pursue his own ambitions in his region.

A new report by American intelligence agencies shows that Russia has plans to invade Ukraine with up to 175,000 troops, possibly early next year. Intelligence officials do not believe Putin decided whether to attack Ukraine, but the threat of another invasion has become more acute.

Mr Austin pointed out that Russia had invaded Ukraine earlier, a reference to 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea and its military led pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The current troop build-up in the border region as well as Russian disinformation activities and cyber operations affect the United States, Austin said.

“We’ll continue to focus on that,” said Austin. “We are definitely determined to help Ukraine defend its sovereign territory.”

The Biden government has tried to use concerns about Russia and China’s intentions to bolster support among allies.

In his remarks, Mr. Austin stressed that the United States did not intend to build a new NATO for Asia. Rather, Washington is trying to better coordinate countries to block China’s efforts to dominate the region, he said, citing the recent agreement to help Australia use nuclear submarines as an example of strengthening alliances .

“They are moving in the direction of their goals,” said David H. Berger, commandant of the US Marine Corps, of China. “We have to act differently”

Understand the escalating tensions in Ukraine

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Ominous warnings. Russia described the strike as a destabilizing act in violation of the ceasefire agreement and raised fears of renewed intervention in Ukraine that could drag the US and Europe into a new phase of the conflict.

The position of the Kremlin. Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin, who increasingly portrays the eastward expansion of NATO as an existential threat to his country, said Moscow’s military build-up was a response to Ukraine’s deepening partnership with the alliance.

China’s so-called pacemaker challenge – a term often used in American political circles to denote the growing military threat to this nation – has become a largely bipartisan concern in Congress.

In June, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill spending nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars to spark scientific innovation to better compete with China.

At the forum, there were roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and all of them raised similar concerns.

“We have to be there,” said Illinois Democrat Senator Tammy Duckworth, who emphasized the need to invest in partners in the area. However, some Republicans have criticized Mr Biden’s previous policies toward China, particularly in what they see as the lack of punitive measures regarding the country’s role in the pandemic. “President Biden needs to get a lot more aggressive,” said Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst.

Although Mr. Austin said U.S. tech firms need to help the country stay one step ahead of Chinese know-how, he acknowledged that if the Pentagon didn’t find ways to do better, it risked falling behind China in various areas Silicon Valley to work together.

“The barriers to entry to work in national security are often just too high,” Austin said.

With all the talk of future threats and partnerships among the crowd of senior Pentagon officials, political experts and business leaders, there has been little reflection on the last two decades of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When pressed for regret over the withdrawal from Afghanistan after his speech, Mr Austin was silent for a few seconds before saying he regretted the loss of Marines and civilians killed in a misguided drone attack. “I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the fact that our American forces evacuated 124,000 people from Afghanistan in 17 days,” he added.

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