Austin made his comment during a keynote discussion with Fox News anchor Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Pointing out how China has been launching multiple air operations near Taiwan in recent months, Baier asked Austin, “Do you think that these are training flights for future operations?”
Austin noted that he didn’t want to speculate, but said, “Certainly, it looks like them exploring what their true capabilities [are], and sure, it looks like rehearsal.”
Austin also affirmed U.S. dominance in the Pacific, telling Baier, “China is not 10 feet tall.”
“America is a Pacific power,” Austin said. “The Indo-Pacific is a region of great opportunity and real challenges. One of those challenges is the emergence of an increasingly assertive and autocratic China.”