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Secretary of Defense Austin Answers Questions at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue

MR. CHIPMAN: I'll turn to the floor. Take three or four in a group. First up, from the Republic of Korea, Chung Min Lee.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. My question to you is, as we speak, Russian and Chinese bombers are intruding into Korean and Japanese air defense identification zones and as a result, one of the reasons why at the end of this month, at the Madrid Summit, the leaders of Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand will be participating in the NATO Summit for the first time. What can your close allies do here in the region to augment European security and vice versa? Thank you very much.

MR. CHIPMAN: If you like...

SEC. AUSTIN: I didn't hear the end of that. What could we do to...

Q: My question was, what can your four closest allies do in the region to augment European security because the leaders of Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand will be participating in the NATO Summit in Madrid this June?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, it -- I mean, there's -- first of all, countries from this region, as you heard me say earlier, have been very supportive of the effort in Europe thus far. They've provided -- a number of countries have provided security assistance and other countries have provided humanitarian assistance. And this is very, very important.

You've seen me pull together Ministers of Defense from across the globe quite frankly to focus on those things that we can do to continue to help Ukraine as it struggles to defend its sovereign territory. And I say struggle, but quite frankly, we're all proud of the work that the Ukrainians have done. They are absolutely inspiring in terms of their commitment to their democracy, their will to defend their land, and I think there are great lessons to be learned from that for all of us in terms of their commitment.

But, again, I will host another one of those meetings in about a week as I go to Brussels. We started out with 40 countries contributing capability. It grew the next meeting to 47 countries and now it's over 50 countries. And that shows you how much the global community cares about this issue and how much countries around the world want to help Ukraine in its effort to defend its sovereign territory.

MR. CHIPMAN: Thank you very much. And next, from the U.S., Bonnie Glaser. If you can put up your hand as well. It looks like your microphone is working. Good ahead, Bonnie.

Q: Thank you, Secretary Austin. The most dangerous potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific is a war in the Taiwan Strait that would arise from a Chinese attempt to seize Taiwan by force. And President Biden has recently said, repeated actually, that he would defend Taiwan if attacked. What are the steps that the United States, our allies, and Taiwan need to take to bolster deterrence so that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait can be preserved? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Bonnie. First of all, you've heard me say and heard a number of our -- a number of leaders, senior leaders say that we think that any unilateral change to the status quo is -- would be unwelcome and ill-advised. I would just highlight that our policy on Taiwan has not changed. We remain committed to One China policy and we also remain committed to providing Taiwan with the military means to defend itself in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act.

And so, I know that countries across the region and across the globe are really focused on this issue, but I really, as I said in the -- in my remarks here, really want to highlight that our Taiwan policy has not changed.

MR. CHIPMAN: And from the Philippines, again, put your hand up, Jeffrey Urdiniao, but it looks like your microphone is working, so go ahead.

Q: Thank you for the opportunity. When China started building artificial islands in the South China Sea, the United States said that there would be consequences. China completed those artificial islands. The United States also said that there would be consequences if China militarized those islands. China militarized those islands anyway, stationing bombers and fighter jets. So, I guess, many of us here are curious, what will be different in the Biden administration's approach to the South China Sea because it seems that the current policy is not working or at least not changing the behavior of China? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Yes. So, some of the consequences that we've seen is that we've seen allies and partners grow closer together and work together in a more deliberate way to make sure that they have the ability to protect their interest and their territory on waters. And I see -- and we've seen, again, in the last couple of years, bonds continue to strengthen. We've also seen, you know, like-minded countries bond together to create new capabilities.

So, the effect has been that -- it's had an effect. There are some consequences and those consequences are a much more united region. A region that's focused ever so much more on a vision of free and open Indo-Pacific. So, I think -- I think there have been consequences.

MR. CHIPMAN: And next, from Singapore, Lin Kook. Go ahead.

Q: Thank you, John. Thank you, Secretary Austin. Yesterday, Prime Minister Kishida cautioned that Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow. Do you share the Japanese Prime Minister's concern? And if so, why? Would it because of a general sense that Ukraine reminds us that war anywhere is possible and we should not be complacent or perhaps because the United States has concrete concerns that China is like Russia because both are autocracies and will therefore act like it?

SEC. AUSTIN: I would say -- I would think it's the former that, you know, anything is possible and so -- I mean, there's a reason that we have, you know, military to defend our sovereign territory. And so, we need to be mindful of the fact that those militaries, our defenses need the -- need the right kinds of capabilities. I go back to what I -- the questions that I asked earlier.

Do rules matter? Does sovereignty matter? You know, is this rules-based international order important to us? I think the answer to that question is yes. I think it's been remarkable to see the global response as a result of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. There's strong indication across this globe -- around this globe that countries around the globe truly value the international rules-based order and adherence to that order. So, I think there's a -- there's a powerful lesson there.

MR. CHIPMAN: Franz Stefan Gaddy, last question?

Q:  Thank you, John. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned game-changing technologies in your speech. Could you perhaps elaborate what technologies specifically you have in mind here and furthermore, do you foresee any changes in U.S. force posture in the region as a result of these game-changing technologies in the near to medium term? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Franz Stefan. I won't go into any detail on emerging technologies, only to say that we continue to invest a substantial amount of our budget, our defense budget. You heard me say $130 billion dedicated to RDT&E, research and development. We believe that in order to remain relevant, we have to make sure that we're investing in the right kinds of things to support the operational concepts that we think are important in any conflict -- that we'll employ in any conflict going forward.

I would just say that it's important for us to continue to work with our allies and partners as we develop these technologies. And you heard me commit to doing that in my remarks and we're serious about that. And so -- but I don't -- I won't elaborate on any of the specific technologies in this forum.

MR. CHIPMAN: So, we've closed this session according to our clock with two seconds remaining. I want to thank you very much, Secretary Austin, and also to say that we should actually draw comfort from the fact that you can't say very much about the emerging technologies that you might be saying with allies and partners because it implies those technologies will be extremely valuable to their security and to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia Pacific. I've got 33 people on the list, a couple of people still waving their hand, but it's inevitable in a session like this especially with the U.S. Secretary of Defense that there will be more questions than time available to answer them. Be reassured that I will you for the next session, but for the meantime, please thank Secretary Austin for his keynote address to the Shangri-La Dialogue. Thank you very much.