SYDNEY • The United States is firmly against China's "destabilising" behaviour in the Indo-Pacific and will not stand by while one country reshapes the region, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said, continuing a war of words between the superpowers.
There is a "disturbing pattern of aggressive" conduct, Mr Esper said at a press conference in Sydney yesterday, speaking after annual strategy talks with Australian counterparts.
The US will not "stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favour at the expense of others, and we know our allies and partners will not either", he said.
China is "weaponising the global commons using predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals, and promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations' intellectual property", Mr Esper added.
Disagreements between the world's two biggest economies have escalated into concerns over trade, human rights, the South China Sea, Taiwan and Huawei Technologies. So far, there are few signs of a resolution. In a defence White Paper released last month, China accused the US of undermining global stability and provoking competition among major countries.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed the importance of cooperation with the US following talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week, adding that "it is neither fair nor possible to try to obstruct China's development".
Mr Pompeo has been one of the Trump administration's most prominent critics of China.
"We're not asking nations to choose between the United States and China, because that's not how we operate," Mr Pompeo said in Sydney at the same press conference. Cooperation between the nations brings mutual benefit, he added, "not zero-sum deals where one side wins and the other risks losing".
NO NEED TO CHOOSE A SIDE
We're not asking nations to choose between the United States and China, because that's not how we operate.
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO
Mr Pompeo and Mr Esper participated in the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, which have served as the principal forum for the allies' joint strategic, foreign and defence policies for 34 years.
Australia is vulnerable to worsening ties between the US, its most important strategic ally, and China, its biggest trading partner.
Mr Pompeo, in the press briefing with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, said that the US and Australia were "both concerned about China's militarisation of their man-made islands in the South China Sea and we're both keeping an eye on investment that mires our friends in debt and corruption".
Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of becoming more aggressive in asserting its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea - a move the US had termed "bullying behaviour".
China said last month that the situation in the South China Sea was "generally stable and improving" as regional countries are properly managing risks and differences.