United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that China is hardening its positions along the Indian border. Beijing is also continuing its conquest in the South China Sea, he added.

Austin alleged that Beijing’s “expanding fishing fleet” was sparking tensions with its neighbours in the East China Sea. In South China Sea, Beijing has been using outposts on man-made islands to advance “illegal maritime claims”, the secretary of defense said.

The Indo-Pacific countries should not “face political intimidation, economic coercion, or harassment by maritime militias”, Austin said. The United States wants the Indo-Pacific region to be free from intimidation and bullying, he added.

India’s “growing military capability and technological prowess” can be a stabilising force in the region, he said, while speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue. The annual security conference in Singapore is organised by the think tank International Institute of Strategic Studies.

India and China have been locked in a border standoff since their troops clashed in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in June 2020. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the clash. China had put the number of casualties on its side at four.

Last month, reports had emerged that China is building a second bridge, parallel to the one built in January around the Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh. The bridge could potentially help China’s People’s Liberation Army quickly mobilise its troops in the region.

Pangong Lake was among the prominent flashpoints when border tensions between the two countries flared up in 2020. One-third of the nearly 160 km-long lake lies in India, the other two-thirds in China.

China asks US to stop interefering in internal matters

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe urged the United States to stop interfering in China’s internal matters and harming its interests, PTI reported on Sunday. “Bilateral relations cannot improve unless the US side does that,” he said.

At a press conference, he said that a stable relationship between Beijing and Washington would serve the interests of both countries as well as the world, PTI reported.

“Confrontation will benefit neither of our two countries nor other countries,” Wei said. “China opposes using competition to define bilateral relations.”