Secy of Defense Says China War Neither ‘Imminent’ Nor ‘Unavoidable’

Halifax, Canada - Nov. 19, 2022: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told Asian-Pacific defense officials that war with China was neither unavoidable nor imminent, despite the escalating tensions in the region.

While attending the Shangri-La Defense Forum in Singapore on June 1, Austin also stressed the importance of maintaining the lines of communication between the US Pentagon and China’s Defense Ministry as a way to avoid “misunderstandings” and “miscalculations.”

On May 31, Austin held an hourlong sideline meeting with China’s Defense Minister Dong Jun, marking the first time the two defense officials met face-to-face since communications between the US and Chinese militaries broke down following former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taiwan.

During their meeting, neither Austin nor Dong backed down from their positions on Taiwan or China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, which have led to multiple confrontations between China and other countries in the region, especially the Philippines.

Secretary Austin declined to give a detailed account of his meeting with Dong, only saying that the fact that they were once again talking was the most important thing.

He explained that if he and his Chinese counterpart were speaking to one another, they would be able to identify “troublesome” issues and set up “guardrails to ensure there are no misperceptions and no miscalculations.”

During his address to the forum on May 31, Phillippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned that if any Philippine citizen was killed in China’s confrontations in the South China Sea, it would be “close to what we define as an act of war.” He added that his country’s treaty partners, including the United States, held “the same standard.”

In his remarks the following day, Secretary Austin praised President Marcos for speaking “powerfully” on how his country was “standing up for its sovereign rights.”

When asked later about Marcos’ threat of war, Austin said the Philippine president was speaking in a hypothetical. He added that Washington’s goal was to ensure that the situation in the South China Sea did not unnecessarily spin “out of control unnecessarily.”