US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends the 10th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers Meeting - Plus, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 16 November 2023. EFE/EPA/WILLY KURNIAWAN / POOL

Austin reaffirms US commitment to Taiwan’s self-defense

Jakarta, Nov 17 (EFE).- United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to helping Taiwan defend itself against China, after bilateral ties between the two major powers took a step forward with the meeting of their leaders in San Francisco.

US President Joe Biden (L) escorts Chinese President Xi Jinping to his car to bid farewell after their talks in the Filoli Estate in Woodside, south of San Francisco, California, USA, 15 November 2023 (issued 16 November 2023). EFE/EPA/XINHUA / LI XUEREN CHINA OUT / UK AND IRELAND OUT / MANDATORY CREDIT EDITORIAL USE ONLY EDITORIAL USE ONLY

“We are committed to doing what’s necessary to help Taiwan acquire the means to defend itself. And we’ve done that for a number of years, and we’ll continue to do that,” Austin told reporters accompanying him on his trip to Jakarta, according to a statement released by the Defense department on Friday morning in Indonesia.

Taiwan is a self-governed island that Beijing claims sovereignty over and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve “reunification” with. The fact that Washington supplies it with weapons and would in principle defend in the event of a conflict is one of the biggest obstacles in bilateral relations between China and the US.

Austin traveled to Jakarta to participate in an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, in which senior Chinese military official, Jing Jianfeng, deputy chief of the Chinese Central Military Commission’s Joint Staff, also participated.

In parallel, the presidents of the US and China, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, met on Wednesday in San Francisco on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where they agreed to reestablish miltiary-to-military communications.

“There is no substitute for consistent and substantive dialogue between senior leaders. So we’ll continue to seek practical discussions with [China] from the senior leader level to the working level,” Austin said in response to questions from journalists.

The Pentagon chief stated that “we had been open to meeting with [China] here in Jakarta but we’re encouraged by recent news from the White House on the planned resumption of military-to-military communications.”

The fact that China did not send an official of Austin’s rank to Jakarta could have been a factor in the talks not taking place, with Beijing not yet having named a replacement for defense minister Li Shangfu, who was dismissed without explanation in October and who was sanctioned by the US in 2018 for purchasing weapons from the Russian state company Rosoboronexport.

Defense communication between Beijing and Washington broke down after then-US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 visit to Taiwan.

Although Austin defended engagement with Taiwan and advocating for a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, he added that “as you’ve heard me say, over and over again, I don’t think that the conflict with China is inevitable or imminent.” EFE