Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called out anti-Asian American discrimination in the United States during a trip to East Asia this week to reassure allies and partners.
“Our partnerships draw strength from our shared belief in greater openness, and our belief that people live best when they govern themselves. Now, our democratic values aren’t always easy to reach. And the United States doesn’t always get it right,” he said.
“We’ve seen some painful lapses, like the unacceptable and frankly un-American discrimination that some Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have endured in my country in recent months,” he said.
The Biden administration has made diversity a key focus at the Pentagon. Austin is the first African American secretary defense, and the first defense secretary to hire a senior adviser on human capital and diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.
Reports of anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 149% in the U.S.’s 16 largest cities over the past year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. The biggest increase has happened in Democrat-run and dominated New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston. Democrats and establishment media, however, have attributed the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes to President Donald Trump, citing his blaming of China for the coronavirus.
Austin argued that calling attention to the discrimination was a virtue.
“I believe that we’re better than that. Far better. But we aren’t trying to hide our mistakes. When a democracy stumbles, everyone can see and hear it. It’s broadcast in loud and living color, and not hushed up by the state,” he said, adding:
Our openness gives us the built-in ability to self-correct… and to strive toward a more perfect union. And when we come up short, when we stray from our Constitution’s wisdom, we have a pretty good track of record of owning up and trying to do better. Even in times of challenge, our democracy is a powerful engine for its own renewal.
Austin also touted the value of alliances and partnerships, amid an increasingly aggressive China.
“Nobody can go it alone, at least not for very long. We are far stronger, and for far longer, when we come together than when we let ourselves be split apart. And the United States and this region are more secure and more prosperous when we work together with our allies and partners,” he said.
Austin also called out Beijing for its bullying of other countries in the region, and ethnic minorities in China.
“Beijing’s claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law. That assertion treads on the sovereignty of states in the region. We continue to support the region’s coastal states in upholding their rights under international law. And we remain committed to the treaty obligations that we have to Japan in the Senkaku Islands and to the Philippines in the South China Sea,” he said.
“Unfortunately, Beijing’s unwillingness to resolve disputes peacefully and respect the rule of law isn’t just occurring on the water. We have also seen aggression against India… destabilizing military activity and other forms of coercion against the people of Taiwan and genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang,” he said.
At the same time, he said he was not seeking conflict with China and would look for areas of cooperation.
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation. So let me be clear: As Secretary, I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army,” he said.
“You know, big powers need to model transparency and communication. And we hope that we can work together with Beijing on common challenges, especially the threat of climate change,” he added.
Austin is on a multi-country trip to the region, that includes stops in Vietnam and the Philippines.