US Won't "Tiptoe" Around Beijing: Defense Chief Blasts China's Military Expansion At Asia Summit

Acting Pentagon Secretary Patrick Shanahan has come out swinging against Beijing in new blistering statements issued on Saturday at Asia's premier defense summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue conference, saying the United States will no longer "tiptoe" around Beijing on a range of contentious issues like rampant technology theft and Chinese aggression in the South China Sea surrounding its expansionist "man-made island" projects. 

"We’re not going to ignore Chinese behavior and I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that," the Defense chief said in response to a question following his main remarks, according to Reuters.

He slammed regional "actors" engaged in "influence operations" and theft of trade secrets, as well as militarizing disputed areas, which ultimately "destabilize the region".

Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan (left) and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, via AFP/Reuters

He said further, "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."

Though he hadn't named China directly in the early part of his remarks at the major Singapore defense conference, the target of his criticisms became clear as he began referencing militarization of disputed islands in the region. 

“If the trends in these behaviors continue, artificial features in the global commons could become tollbooths, sovereignty could become the purview of the powerful.”

Acting Pentagon Secretary Patrick Shanahan speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue conference on June 1, via Today Online

Multiple international reports noted his were the most directly critical of China than any other defense secretary of the past. 

“I won’t apologize for the way I framed some of my remarks, but we’re not going to ignore Chinese behavior,” Shanahan said.

“I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that. It’s not about being confrontational, it’s about being open and having a dialogue.” — Associated Press

The speech also came on the same day the Defense Department released its first Indo-Pacific strategy report detailing ways the US plans to enforce "a free and open Indo-Pacific."

Map via CNN/CSIS/

That report calls for "all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules, norms, and principles of fair competition."

Shanahan said in the new Pentagon report: "In particular, the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations."

"We will not accept policies or actions that threaten or undermine the rules-based international order – an order that benefits all nations. We are committed to defending and enhancing these shared values," the report states. 

Predictably, Chinese military officials blasted the speech. Shao Yuanming of the People’s Liberation Army told reporters in the aftermath: “He (Shanahan) has been expressing inaccurate views and repeating old tunes about the issues of Taiwan and the South China Sea,” according to Reuters. “This is harming regional peace and stability.”