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US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the Fullerton Lecture in Singapore on July 27. Photo: Reuters

Chinese embassy blasts US defence chief for ‘attack and smear’ in Singapore lecture

  • Lloyd Austin’s comments in the island nation defied the one-China policy and Three Communiques that underpin Sino-US ties, embassy says
  • The lengthy Facebook missive also says Washington should stop ‘acting like a preacher’ and approach ties in Asia in a humble manner
China’s embassy in Singapore on Thursday slammed US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin for his comments during a lecture in the city state this week on Taiwan, the South China Sea and Uygur Muslims that it deemed an “attack and smear” on Beijing.

In Tuesday’s closely watched Fullerton Lecture, organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the former four-star general devoted a substantial amount of time to addressing Washington’s relations with Beijing.

He said while the United States sought “constructive, stable” ties with China, it “will not flinch” if its interests were challenged.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin’s Vietnam visit to focus on maritime cooperation, distrust over wartime history

Austin, however, couched the somewhat conciliatory comments by listing various concerns including Beijing’s hardened Taiwan policy; its assertions in the South China Sea; and the treatment of Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang.
In a statement on its website, the Chinese embassy in Singapore said Austin “not only interfered in China’s internal affairs by referring to matters relating to Taiwan and Xinjiang, but also played up the so-called China threat in an attempt to drive a wedge between China and its neighbours”.

“These remarks distorted facts and created falsehoods, only to serve the US geopolitical strategy,” it said.

The embassy said Austin’s assertion that Washington’s current stance on Taiwan was in line with the one-China policy was “deceptive and arrogant”.

Instead, it said the US had gone back on the so-called Three Communiques between the superpowers that Washington has said it will abide by and which Beijing views as the basis of US-China ties.

“Austin’s allegation that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang is a deliberate smear against China for purely political purposes,” it said.
The embassy went on to claim that the Uygur population in Xinjiang was getting wealthier and more educated, and their life expectancy had doubled.

The US, it said, “never ceased to support and incite violent and religious extremist forces in Xinjiang with the intention of disrupting Xinjiang and containing China”, adding that “whether the US side plays the ‘Taiwan card’ or the ‘Xinjiang card’, it is doomed to failure”.

US defence chief to visit security partners Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam to show commitment to Southeast Asia

According to human rights groups and a United Nations committee, as many as 1 million Uygur Muslims – the region’s largest ethnic group – have been detained in “re-education centres” there and subjected to indoctrination, torture and forced labour.

China has defended its policies, saying it is trying to fight extremism and reduce poverty by developing the resource-rich region into a trade route to Central Asia.

The embassy in Singapore also took issue with Austin’s remarks on the South China Sea. The defence secretary had said China’s sweeping nine-dash line, through which it claims most of the resource-rich waters, had no basis under international law – which the embassy took as an assertion made to “sow discord” between Beijing and its neighbours.

Austin (right) and Vietnam’s Minister of National Defence Phan Van Giang during a welcome ceremony in Hanoi on July 29. Photo: EPA

While there are overlapping claims in the disputed waterway, claimant states have managed their differences, according to the embassy.

“It is our sincere wish that the US could put aside its arrogance and prejudice, stop acting as a preacher, and participate in regional cooperation in a more humble manner,” it added. “We dare not entertain hopes that the US would contribute positively to regional prosperity, but we certainly will not allow the US to stir up troubles in the region.”

Austin’s lecture has received a warm reception from regional diplomatic punditry, with some observers opining on Twitter that it was striking for the defence secretary to spell out that Washington was not asking Asian countries to choose between the US or China.

“In fact, many of our partnerships in the region are older than the People’s Republic of China itself,” Austin said in his speech.

The former head of the US Central Command was in Singapore from Monday to Wednesday as part of a Southeast Asian tour that includes stops in Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Pentagon chief was initially slated to visit Singapore and the region in June, to coincide with the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, but that event – a key annual platform for US defence chiefs to address an Asian audience – was cancelled following a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases in the island nation.