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US ‘clear-eyed’ on Chinese efforts to undermine international order

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
US âclear-eyedâ on Chinese efforts to undermine international order
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin delivers remarks at the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Global Emerging Technology Summit on July 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

MANILA, Philippines — The United States intends to remain “clear-eyed” in viewing China’s efforts to coerce and intimidate countries in the Indo-Pacific region, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a recent meeting with Australian officials in Washington.

“While we seek a constructive, results-oriented relationship with the PRC (People’s Republic of China), we will remain clear-eyed in our view of Beijing’s efforts to undermine the established international order,” Austin said.

The US defense chief noted China’s destabilizing activities during the 31st Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN 2021) last Sept. 16.

Along with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Austin hosted Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Marise Payne and Minister for Defense Peter Dutton in Washington and conveyed ongoing concern regarding China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Both countries expressed that Beijing’s claims have no legal basis and it is their intention to strengthen cooperation and conduct maritime exercises with a wide range of partners and respond to “gray zone” activities by China.

Payne emphasized that US leadership in the Indo-Pacific remains “indispensable.”

Dutton said Australia stands with its neighbors in the Indo-Pacific to ensure enduring peace, and this collaboration makes it a safer region.

He said the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region is “deteriorating” and that the only way to defend the international rules-based order that has served so well is through alliances. He said this is the only way to protect the nations and the people of the region.

In “The Australia-US Ministerial Consultations Joint Statement: An Unbreakable Alliance for Peace and Prosperity,” the two countries reaffirmed their commitment to working through the Quad to support Southeast Asia, Association of Southeast Asian Nations centrality, and ASEAN-led architecture.

They underscored the role of the East Asia Summit as the region’s premier, leaders-led forum for addressing strategic challenges and expressed their ongoing support for the practical implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

The secretaries and ministers upheld that adherence to international law is essential for regional and international stability and prosperity.

They underlined the importance of countries’ ability to exercise their maritime rights and freedoms in the South China Sea, consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including freedom of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms.

“The principals expressed their intention to strengthen cooperation and conduct maritime exercises with a wide range of partners. They also resolved to work with partners to respond to “gray zone” activities,” the statement read.

Blinken and Austin and their counterparts conveyed ongoing concern regarding China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea that are without legal basis and called on Beijing to implement relevant domestic legislation, including the Maritime Traffic Safety Law, in a manner consistent with the UNCLOS, and reiterated that the 2016 Arbitral Award is final and legally binding on the parties.

“The principals reiterated their strong opposition to the militarization of disputed features and other destabilizing actions, including the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities,” the statement said.

They committed to continue ongoing work bilaterally and with other partners to oppose the coercive use of trade and economic measures that undermine rules-based trade.

Acknowledging the increasingly complex and challenging nature of the Indo-Pacific security environment, the secretaries and ministers reaffirmed the importance of respect for established international law and the rules-based international order.

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