US defense chief praises 'new era of security' in Asia-Pacific

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday hailed a "new era of security" in the Asia-Pacific region, as Washington strengthens its network of alliances aimed at countering China's growing military might and influence.

From Japan to Australia, the United States has been deepening defense ties across the region, ramping up joint military exercises and regularly deploying warships and fighter jets in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea — infuriating Beijing.

Responding to Austin, Chinese Lieutenant General Jing Jianfeng accused the United States of seeking to build "an Asia-Pacific version of NATO", and described the superpower as the "greatest challenge to regional peace and stability".

In the past three years, Austin said there had been a "new convergence around nearly all aspects of security" in the Asia-Pacific, where there was a shared understanding of "the power of partnership".

"This new convergence is producing a stronger, more resilient and more capable network of partnerships and that is defining a new era of security in the Indo-Pacific," Austin told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

However, it was not "about imposing one country's will" or "bullying or coercion", Austin said, in an apparent shot at China, which has increased its sabre-rattling over self-ruled Taiwan and grown more confident in pressing its claims in the South China Sea.

"This new convergence is about coming together and not splitting apart," Austin said. "It's about the free choices of sovereign states."

  'I will answer the phone' 

The Shangri-La Dialogue, a major security forum attended by defense officials from around the world, has become a barometer of U.S.-China relations in recent years.

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