Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the Pentagon intends to work better with private industry to develop high-tech systems and strengthen ties with allies in the Indo-Pacific to maintain a competitive edge over China.
“We have a clear vision of the challenge China presents. But China is not 10 feet tall. This is America,” Austin said. “America is not a country that fears competition. And we will beat it with confidence and determination, not panic and pessimism.”
Austin’s speech comes as the US struggles to counter China’s growing military and economic power, and its advances in space, cyber and nuclear capabilities, while also avoiding direct conflict. Tensions between the two countries have risen as China has sent an increasing number of fighter jets toward Taiwan, fueling concerns about a possible invasion, even as the US and its allies have crossed the Taiwan Strait. Despite this, warships have been dispatched.
The US “One China” policy recognizes Beijing as the government of China but allows for informal ties and defense ties with Taipei.
Asked whether China’s moves around Taiwan appeared to be training for potential future military operations, Austin said it certainly “seems a lot like they are discovering their true capabilities and are certain Visually, it looks like rehearsal.” But, he said the US does not want a conflict with China, so it is important for the countries’ militaries to communicate more and be more transparent.
Austin arrived in California after a visit to South Korea, his third visit to the Indo-Pacific region since taking over as defense chief earlier this year.
He told the Defense Forum that private companies struggle to get through the Pentagon’s red tape when developing new technologies, and the department needs to make it easier to break down barriers. He said the Pentagon needs to make advances in unmanned systems, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence more quickly in the hands of US forces.
Austin said the US should also strengthen its network of allies and partners in the Pacific.
“We are not seeking an Asian version of NATO or trying to form an anti-China coalition. And we are not asking countries to choose between the United States and China,” Austin said. Instead, we are working to advance an international system that is free and stable and open.”