US Secretary of Defense criticizes China’s hypersonic weapons test for ‘destabilizing regional security’ during South Korea’s security talks

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region”.

Austin made the remarks in Seoul after annual security talks with his South Korean counterpart on challenges from China and North Korea, as well as other issues facing the Allies.

He promised that the United States would retain its ability to deter potential threats from China.

“It just underscores why we consider China to be our pace challenge.

“We will continue to maintain the capacity to defend and deter a number of potential threats from China against ourselves and our allies.”

Korean officials stand along two sides of a conference table, writing notes with leader Kim Jong Un speaking in the middle
The United States and South Korea say they will take a diplomatic approach to North Korea. (AP: Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service )

China’s growing military muscle has sparked unrest in Washington.

Beijing’s efforts to accelerate its military capabilities were highlighted by its July test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target.

Experts say the weapons system is clearly designed to evade US missile defense, although China insisted it was testing a reusable spacecraft and not a missile.

Two men and a guard stand in a ride on the car as it drives past military officers performing an honor guard on a foggy day
The two defense chiefs discussed bilateral unity in light of the threat from North Korea. (AP: Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

On the issue of North Korea, Mr Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook discussed several issues, including bilateral unity in light of the North threat.

Both agreed that North Korea’s advancement of its missile and other weapons programs was “increasingly destabilizing for regional security,” Austin said.

He said the United States and South Korea remain committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea.

Suh said the allies shared an understanding that “diplomacy and dialogue based on past commitments between South and North Korea and between North Korea and the United States are essential to achieving permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

A group of people wearing blue vests hold red stop signs during a demonstration against nuclear weapons in South Korea
South Korean protesters outside the rally.(AP: Lee Jin-mand )

Despite severe pandemic-related economic difficulties, North Korea has consistently rejected US offers to resume negotiations, saying Washington must first renounce its hostility to the Pyongyang regime.

The Biden administration maintains that international sanctions against North Korea will remain in place unless the country takes concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced the results of a global stance review that instructed further cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea.”

The review also informed Mr Austin’s approval of the permanent stationing of a former rotating attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.

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