Philippines warns of new ‘iron curtain’; any conflict at South China Sea could be devastating for Asean region

Carlito Galvez Jr, senior undersecretary at the Department of National Defence in the Philippines.

SINGAPORE/MANILA, June 3 (Bloomberg): A senior defence official of the Philippines expressed concern that growing distrust would lead to the return of the "Iron Curtain.”

"Decoupling amid the declining state of goodwill in the region would only serve to bring about the return of the Iron Curtain that will undermine any potential or confidence building and cooperation between and among us,” said Carlito Galvez Jr, senior undersecretary at the Department of National Defence in the Philippines.

With a US-China meeting ruled out, representatives from the two sides were actively meeting with leaders from the other 40 or so nations taking part in the conference in what one delegate jokingly called "speed dating.”

China’s Li met with Galvez on Friday, describing their talks as "very good” despite a backdrop of heightened tensions over disputed waters and Manila’s renewed military engagement with the US.

Meanwhile, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin used a speech at Asia’s biggest security conference to warn that a conflict over Taiwan would be devastating and he reiterated calls for greater communication between the American and Chinese militaries.

"Make no mistake: conflict in the Taiwan Strait would be devastating,” Austin said. "The whole world has a stake in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the whole world. The security of commercial shipping lanes and global supply chains depends on it.”

"For responsible defence leaders, the time to talk is every time, and the right time to talk is now,” Austin added.

"I’m deeply concerned that the PRC has been unwilling to engage more seriously on better mechanisms for crisis management between our two militaries. But I hope that will change, and soon.”

Asked during a question-and-answer session about China’s growing stock of nuclear weapons, Austin again referred to the lack of talks: "As soon as they answer the phone maybe we’ll get some work done.”

Austin lauded the US’s moves to strengthen alliances and partnerships across the Indo-Pacific region, telling delegates the Biden administration is "working together with our friends more closely every day.”

He noted the US was stepping up coordination and training throughout the region, touting cooperation with India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore in addition to traditional American treaty allies.

"Around the region, countries are matching their words with their actions, insisting on resolving differences through dialogue, and calling for even closer cooperation,” Austin said.

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