In Asia, Pentagon chief Austin seeks to reassure allies and cool China tensions

By Reuters
May 30, 2024
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin looks on during a joint press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at Israel's Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Israel December 18, 2023. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will reassure Asian allies that Washington is committed to helping the region counter China, even as experts say the administration is focused on Israel’s war in Gaza and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Austin, who will be in Singapore for the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security meeting this week, and then briefly in Cambodia, will also seek to cool tensions with China when he meets his counterpart on the sidelines of the meeting.

“I think at this point, it’s essentially undeniable that we’re not as focused on Asia as we need to be,” said Elbridge Colby, a former senior Pentagon official during the Trump administration. “It’s not about our current performance versus our past performance ... it’s very clear that we are not keeping pace with China’s ongoing military buildup.”

The United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine since the invasion, and the US Congress appropriated $61 billion more last month. It has also continued to arm Israel, and the same bill provides $26 billion to in additional support for that country. About $8 billion is set aside for countering China in the Indo-Pacific as part of the supplemental funding bill passed by lawmakers.