US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that China’s hunt for hypersonic weapons is heightening tensions in the region and pledged that the US would maintain its ability to deter potential threats from China.
Austin made the remarks in Seoul after annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart that focused on the challenges posed by China and North Korea and other issues facing the allies.
We are concerned about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue, and pursuing those capabilities is heightening tensions in the region, Austin said while discussing China’s latest hypersonic weapons test in July and using its abbreviation for the People’s Republic of China, the official name.
It just underscores why we view the PRC as our pacing challenge, Austin said, referring to how China’s advancing military capabilities threaten US defense strategies.
We will continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter a range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and our allies,” he said.
China’s growing military strength and its drive to end US rule in Asia have sparked unrest in Washington. The Chinese attack was highlighted by the July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting Earth before entering the atmosphere and sliding toward its target on a manoeuvrable path. Experts say the weapons system was clearly designed with the aim of evading US missile defenses, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile.
Last month, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US is also working on hypersonic weapons. But there are concerns in Washington that it is lagging behind China and Russia in pursuing these types of weapons. Russia said on Monday that its navy had successfully tested a future hypersonic cruise missile in the weapons system’s latest launch.
Hypersonic weapons, flying at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, can pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. But some experts argue that hypersonic weapons would add little to America’s ability to deter war and worry they could spark another destabilizing arms race.
On North Korea, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook discussed a wide range of topics, including bilateral unity in the face of the threat from the north. The two agreed that North Korea’s progress with its missile and other weapons programs is increasingly destabilizing for regional security, Austin said.
The US and South Korea remain committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, he added.
Suh said the allies agree that diplomacy and dialogue based on past engagements between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States are essential to achieving permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.
Despite the serious economic problems associated with the pandemic, North Korea has consistently rejected offers from the US to resume talks, saying Washington must first give up its hostility to the north. The Biden administration insists international sanctions against North Korea will remain in place unless the country takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released the results of a global assessment of attitudes leading to additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea. The review also informed Austin’s approval of the permanent stationing of a formerly rotary attack helicopter squadron and Artillery Division headquarters in South Korea.
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