Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan suggested that China is responsible for a range of destabilizing activities in Asia. His words will stir further tense relations between the two biggest economies in the world. He gave these remarks on Saturday in front of regional defense chiefs at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Shanahan has urged Asia allies to in increase their security spending. He also emphasized United States’ commitment to the region. He had not specifically named China in his speech but his words were clear who he was targeting. He said, “Perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of states across this region comes from actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order.”
This was Shanahan’s first major speech since taking over as acting secretary in January. He further added by saying, “If the trends in these behaviors continue, artificial features in the global commons could become tollbooths, sovereignty could become the purview of the powerful.” This was a clear reference to the artificial islands built by China in the disputed South China Sea.
The strategic waterway is wholly claimed by Beijing. He named China by saying that it is in their interests to have good relationship with United States. These comments come at a time when China and United States are engaged in a trade war. Another major issue surrounding the area is related to democratic Taiwan who China claims is also part of its sacred territory.
There is a strong response expected from China’s side as their defense minister Wei Fenghe is expected to address the summit on Sunday. It is expected that he will criticize United States over their support for a democratic Taiwan.