Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan issued a carefully framed warning to China in what officials billed as a major policy speech at a prominent Asian security conference in Singapore on Saturday.
Shanahan ticked off a highly-specific litany of Chinese activities in the region that the U.S. considers destabilizing, calling its conduct “perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of states across this region” — all, at first, without calling out China by name.
“These actors undermine the system by using indirect, incremental actions and rhetorical devices to exploit others economically and diplomatically, and coerce them militarily,” Shanahan said. “We can’t wish away reality or continue to look the other way as countries use friendly rhetoric to distract from unfriendly acts.”
Shanahan did eventually refer to China by name later in his lengthy speech, in an apparent effort to avoid too much direct criticism in the closely watched remarks. While calling on Beijing to end “behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions,” and ticking off a long list of U.S. military power deployed to this region, Shanahan insisted that “China could still have a cooperative relationship with the United States.”
“We’re not going to ignore Chinese behavior,” Shanahan said following the speech. But, he insisted, “It’s not about confrontation.”
“We compete with China where we must. But competition does not mean conflict. Competition is not to be feared. We should welcome it, provided that everyone plays by internationally established rules,” he said.