The United States and Japan warned China against what they called “coercion and destabilising behaviour” on Tuesday after top-level diplomatic and defence talks aimed at bolstering their alliance against rising Chinese influence.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and top US diplomat Antony Blinken are on their first overseas trip, which began on Monday in Japan, looking to shore up regional alliances and send a robust message to Beijing.
They will continue on to South Korea, and a policy review by the new administration of its approach to Pyongyang is also a key part of the diplomatic outreach.
But discussions in Tokyo focused on China’s manoeuvres in the region, including its increasing presence around islands disputed with Japan.
“China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law,” Blinken claimed at a joint press conference.
“We’re united in a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate wherever they can and resolve their differences peacefully.
“We will push back if necessary, when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.”
In a joint statement, the US officials and their Japanese counterparts also warned that “China’s behaviour, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges”.
“The ministers committed to opposing coercion and destabilising behaviour towards others in the region,” they added.
Issues from the coup in Myanmar to the way forward with North Korea were also on the table.
Blinken accused the Myanmar military of “attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election”, saying it was “brutally repressing peaceful protesters”.
But he declined to comment on the latest bombastic pronouncement from North Korea, where leader Kim Jong Un’s sister earlier on Tuesday warned Washington against “struggling to spread the smell of gunpowder on our land from across the ocean”.
The joint statement called again for Pyongyang’s “complete denuclearisation”, warning North Korea’s arsenal “poses a threat to international peace and stability”.