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US Defense Chief Slams China on Weapons12/02 06:09

   America's defense chief rebuked China on Thursday, vowing to confront its 
potential military threats in Asia and warning that its pursuit of hypersonic 
weapons intended to evade U.S. missile defenses "increases tensions in the 
region."

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- America's defense chief rebuked China on 
Thursday, vowing to confront its potential military threats in Asia and warning 
that its pursuit of hypersonic weapons intended to evade U.S. missile defenses 
"increases tensions in the region."

   U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's stern comments after annual security 
talks with South Korea, a top U.S. ally, are a window into one of the Biden 
administration's top foreign policy worries: How should Washington and its 
partners contain a Chinese military that is strengthening -- both in sheer 
firepower and in confidence -- as it pursues an end of American dominance in 
Asia?

   China sees much of Asia as its natural sphere of influence. But many in the 
region warn of a pattern of Chinese interference, accompanied by moves to 
acquire the weapons needed to dominate its rivals. Austin's comments were 
directed at China's July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially 
orbiting Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable 
path to its target.

   Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed to evade U.S. missile 
defenses, although China insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not 
a missile.

   "We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to 
pursue, and the pursuit of those capabilities increases tensions in the 
region," Austin said about the hypersonic weapons test, using the abbreviation 
for the People's Republic of China, the country's official name.

   "We'll continue to maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a 
range of potential threats from the PRC to ourselves and to our allies," he 
said.

   The Pentagon released on Monday the results of a global posture review that 
calls for additional cooperation with allies to deter "potential Chinese 
military aggression and threats from North Korea."

   Last month, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 
the United States is also working on hypersonic weapons. But there is worry in 
Washington that it is lagging behind China and Russia in pursuing these types 
of weapons. Russia said Monday its navy successfully tested a prospective 
hypersonic cruise missile.

   Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times 
the speed of sound, could pose crucial challenges to missile defense systems 
because of their speed and maneuverability. But some experts argue that 
hypersonic weapons would add little to America's ability to deter war and worry 
that they could trigger a new, destabilizing arms race.

   Austin also addressed another major U.S. worry: North Korea.

   He said that he agreed with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook that the 
North's growing weapons program "is increasingly destabilizing for regional 
security." Austin said the allies remain committed to a diplomatic approach to 
North Korea.

   Suh said the two agreed on a document updating joint contingency plans in 
the event of a war on the peninsula to reflect changes in North Korean threats 
and other conditions, but didn't elaborate on the document's details.

   North Korea's nuclear arsenal is believed to have grown significantly in 
recent years.

   After a series of high-profile missile and nuclear tests in 2016-17, North 
Korea claimed to have the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the American 
homeland. According to a 2018 South Korean estimate, North Korea has built up 
to 60 nuclear weapons.

   Despite severe economic hardships related to the pandemic, North Korea has 
continuously rebuffed U.S. offers to resume disarmament talks, saying 
Washington must first abandon its hostility. The Biden administration maintains 
that international sanctions on North Korea will stay in place until the 
country takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

   The United States stations about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea to deter 
potential aggression from North Korea. During Thursday's meeting, Austin 
highlighted a U.S. commitment to maintain the current level of U.S. forces, 
according to a joint statement.

   The alliance, forged during the 1950-53 Korean War, was tested in recent 
years as then-President Donald Trump threatened to pull U.S. troops out of 
South Korea if Seoul did not drastically increase its financial support for 
them. Trump also repeatedly complained of the cost of regular military drills 
between Washington and Seoul.

   Such concerns have eased since President Joe Biden took office in January. 
But the alliance still faces challenges such as Seoul's historical disputes 
with Japan, another key U.S. regional ally, and its hesitation to join U.S.-led 
initiatives targeting China, its biggest trading partner.

   Austin and Suh pledged to continue trilateral cooperation involving Japan. 
But they didn't elaborate on how South Korea and Japan could overcome tensions 
stemming largely from Tokyo's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

 
 
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