Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan asserted that the Indo-Pacific region was a "priority theater" where the US would support partner nations against attempts by any one nation to control it.
Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Saturday warned China against threatening its neighbors' sovereignty and called its actions in the Indo-Pacific region "a toolkit of coercion."
The Indo-Pacific region covers the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean and the seas connecting them around Indonesia.
"China can and should have a cooperative relationship with the rest of the region ... But behavior that erodes other nations' sovereignty and sows distrust of China's intentions must end," he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
"Until it does, we stand against a myopic, narrow and parochial vision of the future, and we stand for the free and open order that has benefited us all, including China."
The Shangri-La Dialogue, a three-day security summit that brings together top defense representatives from around the world, ends Sunday.
Shanahan's comments came amid heightened trade tensions between the US and China, the US decision to impose sanctions on Chinese tech giant Huawei, and the US' approval of a weapons sale to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that the Communist mainland claims as its own territory.
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'No one country can dominate'
Earlier in his speech, Shanahan referred to unspecified countries that had been "deploying advanced weapons systems to militarize disputed areas," "engaging in predatory economics and debt sovereignty deals" and "promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations' civilian technology."
"No one country can, or should, dominate the Asia Pacific," Shanahan said without specifically naming China.
The acting defense secretary made pointed references to Beijing's campaign to put advanced weapons systems on disputed islands in the region.
"Perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the vital interests of states across this region comes from actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order," he said.
He appeared to reference artificial islands built by China in the disputed South China Sea, a strategic waterway claimed by Beijing.
US won't ignore China's behavior
In response to a question, Shanahan said the US was "not going to ignore Chinese behavior, and I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that."
He also said it was in Beijing's interests to have a constructive relationship with the United States.
Chinese Minister for National Defense General Wei Fenghe is scheduled to speak at the summit about China and international security cooperation on Sunday.
It will be the first time a senior Chinese defense official has addressed the gathering in almost a decade.
law/amp (AFP, AP, Reuters)