US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the United States will maintain its presence in Asia but Washington understands the need to prevent conflict.

Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue, Austin said the US would continue to stand by its allies, including Taiwan.
Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue, Austin said the US would continue to stand by its allies, including Taiwan. (AP)

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has blasted China's "provocative, destabilising" military activity near Taiwan, as well as Beijing's growing aggression across the wider Asia-Pacific region.

In an address to the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit on Saturday, Austin took aim at Beijing's "growing coercion" towards Taiwan, a day after his first face-to-face talks with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe.

"We've witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan," he told the forum in Singapore, which is attended by defence ministers from Asia and around the world.

"That includes (Chinese military) aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months, and nearly on a daily basis," he said.

"We categorically oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side," he added. "Our policy hasn't changed — unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be true for (China)."

Tensions between Washington and Beijing are soaring over democratic, self-ruled Taiwan, which China views as its territory and has vowed to seize one day, by force if necessary.

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War of words

On Friday, Wei had warned Austin that "if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost", according to Chinese officials.

He also vowed that Beijing would "smash to smithereens any 'Taiwan independence' plot and resolutely uphold the unification of the motherland", according to the Chinese defence ministry.

Tensions over Taiwan have escalated due to increasing Chinese aircraft incursions into the island's air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

In Saturday's address, the Pentagon chief reiterated US criticism of China's increasingly "coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims".

China claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

He also criticised Russia's assault on Ukraine, at the same time taking a veiled swipe at China's growing aggression. 

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all," he said.

Washington accuses Beijing of providing tacit support for Moscow. While China has called for talks to end the conflict, but has stopped short of condemning Russia's actions. 

Wei will address the summit on Sunday, which runs from June 10 to 12.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies