Biden team signals rejection of China's territorial claims

WASHINGTON • One week into the job, US President Joe Biden has sent a clear warning to Beijing against any expansionist intentions in East and South-east Asia.

In multiple calls and statements, he and his top security officials have underscored support for allies Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, signalling Washington’s rejection of China’s disputed territorial claims in those areas.

Mr Biden on Wednesday told Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that his administration is committed to defending Japan, including the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed both by Japan and China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands.

That stance was echoed by Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi last Saturday that the contested islands were covered by the US-Japan Security Treaty.

Mr Austin affirmed that the United States “remains opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea”, according to a Pentagon statement on the call.

Meanwhile, three days into the Biden administration, State Department spokesman Ned Price warned China about menacing Taiwan after it repeatedly sent more than a dozen military fighters and bombers through the island’s air defence zone.

“We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity security and values in the Indo-Pacific region – and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan,” Mr Price said in a statement.

Those comments and others sought to emphasise that the new Biden administration will not deviate from the firm security stance towards China that it inherited from former president Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, China toughened its language towards Taiwan yesterday, warning after recent stepped-up military activities near the island that “independence means war” and that its armed forces were acting in response to provocation and foreign interference.

“We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements: Those who play with fire will burn themselves, and ‘Taiwan independence’ means war,” said Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, when asked at a monthly news briefing about the Chinese air force’s recent activities.

He also said that any attempt to contain China is “mission impossible”.

“The facts show that to contain China is mission impossible, and will only end up in shooting yourself in the foot,” Mr Wu said, urging the US to adopt a “non-confrontational, mutually respectful, win-win mentality”.

Washington has long sided with allies such as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia in rejecting disputed Chinese territorial claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

But the Trump administration raised the tone of that rejection when then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared last July that most of Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea were “completely unlawful”.

In his first overseas contacts after taking office, Mr Austin included not only Japan but also his counterparts in Australia, South Korea and India.

Over the past three years, Washington has expanded defence cooperation with India, which sees China as posing a military threat both on its northern border and in the seas to the south.

In a call with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday, Mr Austin observed that the two countries’ defence partnership “is built upon shared values and a common interest in ensuring the Indo-Pacific region remains free and open”, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

A similar China-directed refrain echoed through Mr Austin’s call with Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on Tuesday.

“(Mr Austin) emphasised the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, founded on existing international law and norms in a region free of malign behaviour,” Mr Kirby said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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