Washington, June 1 (IANS) In his first major public appearance in Asia, Acting US Defence Secretary Pat Shanahan said on Saturday that Washington would no longer “ignore Chinese behaviour” in the Asia-Pacific region, calling its activity a “tool kit of coercion”.
Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security summit here, Shanahan also said that, despite Beijing’s militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea, its alleged attempts to conduct cyber-attacks on other nations and its engagement in “predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals”, he wanted a better military-to-military relationship, Efe news reported.
“I think in the past people have tiptoed around” Chinese activity in the region, the Acting Defence Secretary told the audience during the question-and-answer period after his remarks.
“It’s not about being confrontational. It’s about being open and having a dialogue.”
In describing China during his address before defence leaders in Asia, Shanahan said that “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”.
But later in his 45-minute speech, Shanahan said there were areas where China “could still have a cooperative relationship with the US”, such as counter-piracy and enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea.
A day earlier Shanahan held a 20-minute meeting with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the conference.
He said he gave the Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe a book of images of ship-to-ship transfers of oil near China, a common way that North Korea has allegedly skirted sanctions.
In response to his meeting with Gen. Wei, Shanahan said he saw “a lot of potential” in the military relationship between the two countries. Yet he also described China’s buildup on disputed islands in the South China Sea as “overkill” if intended as a defensive measure.