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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warns China is ‘on pace to become a competitor’ to US military

The Chinese military is on track to become a “peer competitor” to the United States’ armed forces as the country begins amassing nuclear weapons at a “mid-speed” rate, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned on Saturday.

But he also downplayed the possibility of a new Cold War and emphasized diplomacy and deterrence as America’s strategy for competing with the growing economic powerhouse.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, the Pentagon chief devoted much of his nearly hour-long appearance to discussing “an increasingly assertive and autocratic” China’s efforts to reverse US dominance in the world order. .

Part of that threat includes a goal to collect 1,000 nuclear warheads in its arsenal by the end of the decade, Austin said.

“We’ve seen two decades of breakneck modernization by the People’s Liberation Army,” he said, referring to the Chinese military. “And the Chinese military is well on its way to becoming a competitor to the United States in Asia — and eventually around the world.”

In addition to building its nuclear arsenal, Austin said China is making rapid strides in space and cyberspace.

“Now we are always judging not only capabilities, but intentions and actions,” Austin said.

“And the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are increasingly speaking of their dissatisfaction with the ruling order — and of their aim to oust America from its global leadership role.”

Austin on Saturday outlined the US plan for dealing with ‘an increasingly assertive and autocratic’ China

Austin accused Beijing of “misusing technology to advance its repressive agenda domestically and export the tools of autocracy abroad.”

Global defense experts have expressed concern about China and Russia’s military expansion at a pace not seen since the end of World War II, leading some to speculate that the world is in the early stages of a new Cold War. is located.

But on Saturday, Austin claimed the US wants to meet these new challenges while avoiding a conflict that could have devastating ripple effects for millions.

‘We seek neither confrontation nor conflict. And as President Biden has repeatedly made clear, “We are not aiming for a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” Austin said.

“So yes, we face a formidable challenge. But America is not a country that fears competition. And we face it with confidence and determination – no panic and pessimism.”

Instead, he said the US approach would be one of deterrence, and “to prevent conflict and create common sense barriers.”

“We will always be ready to prevail in conflict, but America’s defense will always be rooted in our determination to avoid conflict,” he said.

People's Liberation Army armored assault vehicles fired smoke bombs to test new weapons on Nov. 30, 2021. Austin said China is building its military at a staggering pace

People’s Liberation Army armored assault vehicles fired smoke bombs to test new weapons on Nov. 30, 2021. Austin said China is building its military at a staggering pace

DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missiles equipped with a DF-ZF hypersonic glider, involved in a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in 2019

DF-17 Dongfeng medium-range ballistic missiles equipped with a DF-ZF hypersonic glider, involved in a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2019

“So we are actively seeking open lines of communication with China’s defense leaders, especially in times of crisis. And we take measures between our diplomats and our military to reduce risks and prevent miscalculations.’

He also tried to assure Beijing that the US has no intention of building a NATO alliance against China, nor that countries will take sides.

China has made no secret of its global ambitions — President Xi Jinping has vowed that by 2049 his country will be able to “fight and win” a war against the US.

Austin quoted President Joe Biden’s warning that China is the only country “able to combine its economic, diplomatic, military and technological might to meet a sustainable challenge to a stable and open international system.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping has set a goal of 'fighting and winning' a war against the US by 2049

Chinese President Xi Jinping has set a goal of ‘fighting and winning’ a war against the US by 2049

Recently released satellite images have revealed that the country is building hundreds of new silos that could be used for nuclear weapons.

Beijing is already the largest fighting force in the world with more than two million active troops and has also funneled money to expand its non-nuclear arsenal, including fighter jets and other military equipment.

It also expanded its military presence in the South China Sea, alarming US allies in the region.

Austin promised to strengthen the US commitment to those countries, including stepped-up military exercises with Japan and South Korea, among others.

He also mentioned a number of defense pacts, including the new deal between Australia, the US and the UK to share submarine technology in an effort to increase US influence in the Indo-Pacific and an informal alliance between the US, India, Japan and Australia called the Indo Pacific quadruplets.

“We’re building on a lesson I’ve learned in four decades in uniform: In war and in peace, we are always stronger when we work together with our friends,” Austin said.

As part of a growing campaign of aggression against Taiwan, China has flown 27 military planes through the airspace of the small island in recent weeks.

Just days after the Chinese military launched combat readiness patrols toward the Taiwan Strait, a US congressional delegation paid a surprise visit to Taipei and offered support to the Chinese-claimed democratically governed island.

But on Saturday, Austin downplayed the possibility of an actual invasion.

“I don’t want to speculate, but sure…it’s a lot like rehearsals,” he said.

He also stressed that the US was still acting on its long-standing One China policy, which recognized only the Beijing government as legitimate rather than Taipei’s.

But he added that the US was committed to the “island’s ability to defend itself while preserving our ability to withstand any resort to violence that would endanger the security of the people of Taiwan.”

“Now we are working to strengthen deterrence and not to change the status quo.”

Biden and Xi met in November for a virtual summit where they discussed the need for open lines of communication and discussed the growing issue of Taiwan.

Towards the start of their meeting, Biden told Xi, “We have a responsibility to both the world and our people.”

“That’s why we believe — and you and I have talked about this — that all countries must follow the same traffic rules, why the United States will always stand up for our interests and values, and those of our allies and partners,” Biden said.

“If the past is the prologue, I am sure today we will discuss those areas that we are concerned about – about human rights, about economics, to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

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