US, China defense leaders hold first talks in 18 months

US, China defense leaders hold first talks in 18 months
US, China defense leaders hold first talks in 18 months

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a video call with his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun as the two countries seek to restore dialogue amid rising regional tensions.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with China’s Defense Minister Dong Jun on Tuesday in the first such engagement in almost 18 months.

In the video conference call, the two superpowers’ defense leaders laid out where they stood on “defense relations and regional and global security issues,” according to a Pentagon statement.

Austin: US, China must continue ‘open lines’ of communication

The call comes after US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping resumed direct military talks last year in an effort to manage rising tensions in the region, especially over Taiwan and other Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

“Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC,” the statement said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

Austin also “underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea,” and “reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate – safely and responsibly – wherever international law allows”

The Chinese Defense Ministry said Dong had used the meeting to call for the two countries to explore ways to “gradually accumulate mutual trust” and “get along” by building a pragmatic and cooperative relationship between their militaries, based on “non-conflict” and “non-confrontation.”

According to a Beijing readout, Dong told Austin that “the military sphere is the key … to stabilizing the development of the relationship and preventing major crises from occurring.”

US must respect ‘China’s territorial sovereignty,’ Beijing says

Nevertheless, Dong also warned the US not to interfere in China’s aims regarding Taiwan and to respect Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“Dong Jun emphasized that the Taiwan issue is the core of China’s core interests,” the Defense Ministry statement said, adding: “The US side should recognize China’s firm position, respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and take practical actions to safeguard regional peace.”

The meeting was the first substantive and official communication between Austin and a Chinese counterpart since November 2022, when he met with former Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in Cambodia.

Austin shook hands and spoke briefly with Wei’s successor, Li Shangfu, in Singapore in June 2023, but China refused to allow official talks between the two while Li was still on a US sanctions list.

That obstacle was removed when Li was replaced by Dong last year.

Source: Dw

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