Home » China-US relations: defence ministers Dong and Austin hold ‘positive, practical and constructive’ meeting, says Beijing
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China-US relations: defence ministers Dong and Austin hold ‘positive, practical and constructive’ meeting, says Beijing

The Chinese and US defence ministers held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday, the first in-person meeting between ministers since 2022.

Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a spokesman for China’s defence ministry, said the bilateral meeting between Dong Jun and Lloyd Austin was “positive, practical and constructive” communication at the strategic level.

He said that during the meeting, the two exchanged views, including on relations between the two militaries, Taiwan, the South China Sea and “the Ukraine crisis”.

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The meeting had a “positive effect” on promoting understanding and avoiding miscalculation, the spokesman said in a press conference after the meeting.

Wu said the meeting lasted 75 minutes, longer than expected.

In a press release issued after the meeting, the US Department of Defence said Austin emphasised the “importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication” between Washington and Beijing.

Austin, however, also expressed “concern about recent provocative PLA activity around the Taiwan Strait”, reaffirming the importance of peace and stability near the self-ruled island.

“[Beijing] should not use Taiwan’s political transition – part of a normal, routine democratic process – as a pretext for coercive measures,” Austin said, according to the press release.

Austin also underscored the “importance of respect for high-seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea” and discussed “Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine and the [China’s] role in supporting Russia’s defence industrial base”.

Chinese Lieutenant General He Lei said the bilateral talks between Dong and Austin showed that normal high-level exchanges between the two militaries had resumed, which was conducive to stabilising and improving ties between the two militaries.

“China’s new defence minister Dong Jun can reiterate China’s position on its core interests and major issues to Austin face to face, which will have a positive effect on enhancing the understanding between the leaders of the two militaries and controlling the risks of differences between the two militaries,” He said on the sidelines of the forum on Friday.

Photo: AFP

Each side brought 10 officials to the talks, officials said.

It marks the first in-person summit between the pair and comes after a phone call between them in April.

During that call they discussed various issues regarding the increasing military tensions between the two countries over major flashpoints, such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Relations have remained bitter since Beijing severed the military communication channel with Washington after Nancy Pelosi, who was US House speaker at the time, visited Taiwan in August 2022.

The bilateral meeting on Friday follows Beijing and Washington’s attempt to restore military communication channels after Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden met in San Francisco in November.

It marks the first time in two years the two countries’ defence ministers have met in person after Austin met then Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe in November 2022 in Cambodia.

No China-US bilateral meeting took place at last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue after Beijing refused because the US had imposed sanctions on Li Shangfu, who became defence minister in March last year and was ousted a few months later.

He was replaced by Dong in December.

The rare meeting between the two sides comes amid rising military tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Last week, the People’s Liberation Army conducted a two-day joint military drill focusing on blockading the main island of Taiwan in response to the inauguration of the new Taiwanese leader William Lai Ching-te.

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China, to be reunited by force if necessary. Most countries, including the US, do not recognise Taiwan as an independent state, but Washington is opposed to any attempt to take the island by force, and is committed to arming it.

On Thursday, Beijing announced export controls on various military-related materials to take effect from July 1, which the Chinese commerce ministry said was to “safeguard national security and interests.”

A review by the South China Morning Post of customs data shows the US is among the largest importers of those products.

Source: Yahoo Finance