US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has downplayed the risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, saying he sees no imminent attack on the self-governing island despite escalating tensions in the region.
“I don’t see an imminent invasion,” Austin said in a CNN interview that aired on Sunday. “What we do see is China moving to establish what we would call a new normal, increased activity. We saw a number of center line crossings of the Taiwan Strait by their aircraft. That number has increased over time. We’ve seen more activity with their surface vessels and waters in and around Taiwan.”
Beijing ramped up military drills in the area and cut off military and climate ties with Washington after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August. Chinese officials condemned the trip, saying it undermined Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan and emboldened separatists in Taipei. China has vowed to regain control over Taiwan, by force if necessary.
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The CNN interview aired one day after Austin decried China’s “bullying behavior” in the region. “We are deeply concerned by China’s increasingly aggressive and bullying behavior in the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere in the region,” Austin told reporters on Saturday in Honolulu, where he was set to meet with his counterparts from Japan and Australia.