U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan criticized China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific region on Saturday, calling the superpower’s behavior there “a toolkit of coercion,” AP reported.
Shanahan reaffirmed the United States’ “enduring commitment” to the Asia Pacific region, before pointing to actors who were “choosing to act contrary to the principles and norms that have benefited us all.”
“China can and should have a cooperative relationship with the rest of the region too, but behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions must end,” Shanahan said during an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Top defense representatives from around the world began meeting in Singapore on Friday for the annual security summit, which runs until Sunday.
In earlier parts of his speech, Shanahan referred to unspecified countries that had been “deploying advanced weapons systems to militarize disputed areas,” “engaging in predatory economics and debt sovereignty deals” and “promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations’ civilian technology.”
Washington has accused China of reneging on promises not to militarize the disputed South China Sea, which faces conflicting territorial claims by five other countries: Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
The territory is seen as a valuable waterway, as trillions of dollars of goods pass through it and it is abundant in fish stocks and marine reserves of oil and gas.
The U.S. has also recently imposed trade restrictions on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, citing cybersecurity concerns that the networks built by the manufacturer would enable surveillance by the Chinese government.
Huawei has vehemently denied these accusations, saying that the U.S. has no evidence for the security allegations.
“No one country can, or should, dominate the Asia Pacific,” Shanahan said without specifically naming China. The acting defense chief also acknowledged heightened concerns over North Korea in his speech, saying that it “remains an extraordinary threat and requires continued vigilance,” pointing to Pyongyang’s ability to “credibly strike regional allies, U.S. territory, and our foreign deployed forces.”
“We are focused on negotiations to achieve a final, fully verified the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
China’s Minister for National Defence General Wei Fenghe is scheduled to speak about China and international security cooperation on Sunday, marking the first time a senior Chinese defense official will address the gathering in almost a decade.