China’s military is on pace to become a ‘peer competitor’ to the United States’ armed forces as the country moves to amass nuclear weapons at ‘breakneck’ speed,  Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned on Saturday.

But he downplayed any possibility of a Cold War and stressed diplomacy, deterrence and the need for the US to be able to compete against the increasing economic powerhouse. 

The Pentagon Chief spoke at California’s Reagan National Defense Forum and spent nearly an hour discussing China’s attempts to overthrow the US in the international order.

Austin stated that part of this threat is to have a total of a thousand nukes in the country’s arsenal before the decade ends. 

‘We’ve seen two decades of breakneck modernization by the People’s Liberation Army,’ he said, referencing the Chinese military. ‘And China’s military is on pace to become a peer competitor to the United States in Asia – and, eventually, around the world.’ 

Austin also stated that China was expanding its nuclear arsenal and making great strides in cyberspace.

Austin stated, “Now, we never just assess capabilities, but also our intentions and actions.”

“And leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were increasingly vocal about dissatisfaction about the prevailing order, and about their goal of replacing America’s global leadership position.

Austin outlined the American plan for dealing with 'an increasingly assertive and autocratic' China on Saturday

Austin described the American approach to dealing with China, which was “an increasing assertive and autoritarian” on Saturday

Austin said Beijing was’misusing technology in order to advance its repressive agenda home and exporting autocratic tools abroad. 

Some global defense experts expressed concern at Russia and China expanding their military capabilities at an unprecedented rate since World War II. Others speculate that this could signal the start of a new Cold War.

On Saturday, Austin said that the US was trying to address these challenges and avoid a conflict which could cause devastating ripple effects for millions.

We do not seek conflict or confrontation. As President Biden repeatedly stated, we aren’t seeking a Cold War again or a divided world.

‘So yes, we’re facing a formidable challenge. But America isn’t a country that fears competition. And we’re going to meet this one with confidence and resolve – not panic and pessimism.’

He said that the US would adopt a deterrence strategy and work to ‘prevent conflict and establish commonsense safeguardrails.  

‘We will always stand ready to prevail in conflict – but America’s defense will always be rooted in our resolve to prevent conflict,’ he said. 

Armored assault vehicles of the People's Liberation Army fire smoke bombs to test new weaponry on November 30, 2021. Austin said China has been building up its military at a stunning pace

The People’s Liberation Army’s armored assault vehicle fires smoke bombs on November 30, 2021 to demonstrate new weaponry. Austin stated that China is rapidly building its military.

‘So we’re actively seeking open lines of communication with China’s defense leaders- especially in a crisis. And both between our diplomats and our militaries, we’re taking steps to reduce risk and to prevent miscalculations.’

Also, he assured Beijing that America isn’t seeking to form a NATO-style coalition against China and would not force any countries to pick sides. 

China’s ambitions are well-known. China’s President Xi Jinping has vowed to be able ‘fight and lose’ a war on the US.

Austin cited President Joe Biden’s advice that China was the only nation ‘capable’ of using its diplomatic, economic and technological powers to challenge a stable, open international system.

Chinese President Xi Jinping set a goal to be able to 'fight and win' a war against the US by 2049

President Xi Jinping of China set a goal for 2049 to be able ‘fight and lose’ a war with the US.

Recent satellite images reveal that hundreds more silos are being built in the country, which could lead to nuclear weapons. 

Beijing, already home to more than 2 million soldiers and the largest combat force on the planet, has also invested in expanding its non-nuclear weapons inventory including fighter planes and other military gear. 

The US has also increased its military presence at the South China Sea, which alarms allies. 

Austin pledged that the US would strengthen its commitment to these nations, and also intensified military exercises, such as those with South Korea or Japan.

In an effort to boost US influence over the Indo Pacific, he also mentioned a variety of defence pacts, including the agreement between Australia and the US to share sub-sea technology. He also mentioned the Indo Pacific Quad, which is an informal alliance among Australia, India and Japan.

‘We’re building on a lesson that I learned over four decades in uniform: In war and in peace, we’re always stronger when we work together with our friends,’ Austin said. 

China has flown 27 military planes over Taiwan in recent weeks as part of an aggressive campaign against Taiwan. 

It was just days after China’s military carried out ‘combat readiness’ patrols in the direction of the Taiwan Strait as a US Congressional delegation made a surprise visit to Taipei and offered support to the Chinese-claimed, democratically governed island. 

On Saturday, Austin reacted to the idea of an invasion. 

He said, “I don’t want speculation, but it certainly… It looks a lot similar to rehearsals,”

He stressed that the US continued to act on its One China Policy, which only recognizes Beijing’s legitimacy and not Taipei.

He said that the US is committed to Taiwan’s defense and maintaining its ability to resist force if necessary. 

“Now we’re working to strengthen deterrence and not to alter the status quo.”

Biden met Xi for a virtual summit on November 23rd, where they spoke about Taiwan’s growing problem and discussed open communication. 

Biden stated to Xi that they had a responsibility for the entire world and not just to their people at the start of the meeting.

Biden explained that this is what we believe, which you and I discussed. All countries need to follow the same rules. That’s why the United States will continue to defend our values and interests, as well as those of our allies, said Biden. 

“If the past is prologue,” I’m sure we will be talking about today’s concerns – in human rights and economics – to ensure a free Indo-Pacific.