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United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the importance of dialogue in preventing war with China at the Shangri-La defense forum in Singapore, following a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun. Both sides maintained their positions on Taiwan and the South China Sea. Austin highlighted the importance of communication to avoid misunderstandings that could escalate into conflict. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned that any harm to Filipinos in confrontations with China would be considered an act of war, emphasizing the need for a unified response from treaty partners like the U.S.

Austin commended Marcos for asserting the Philippines’ rights under international law, but refrained from speculating on how the U.S. would respond to potential incidents, emphasizing the need to prevent unnecessary escalation. Beijing has been expanding its naval capabilities and asserting control over the South China Sea, prompting concerns from regional leaders about growing tensions. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister highlighted instances of Chinese aggression towards Australian and Philippine ships, urging all countries to manage strategic risks in the region.

Amid increasing tensions, the U.S. has conducted military exercises with allies in the Indo-Pacific region to maintain freedom of navigation through contested waters. Chinese officials have raised concerns about U.S. efforts to strengthen partnerships and alliances in the region, likening it to the expansion of NATO. Austin clarified that the U.S. is cooperating with like-minded countries without aiming to create a NATO-type alliance. Indonesian academics expressed their desire for de-escalation, questioning whether dialogue with China could lead to unchecked military assertiveness in the region.

Austin reiterated that war with China is neither imminent nor unavoidable, emphasizing the need for continued communication to reduce the risk of miscalculations. While acknowledging the importance of supporting allies and partners in the region, he stressed the value of dialogue in addressing differences with China. As tensions continue to rise in the Asia-Pacific region, the focus remains on preventing misunderstandings that could spiral out of control. The meetings at the Shangri-La defense forum highlighted the complexities of navigating geopolitical challenges in the region while striving to maintain peace and stability.

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