Lloyd Austin to meet Chinese defense chief amid Taiwan war games

Taipei, Taiwan - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his Chinese counterpart, the Pentagon announced Friday, after Beijing carried out war games around Taiwan in a sign to the new American-backed leader.

Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun is due to meet with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun is due to meet with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.  © REUTERS

The Pentagon said that Austin would meet Chinese Admiral Dong Jun when they attend the May 31-June 2 Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of defense officials around the world.

China this week encircled Taiwan with warships and fighter jets in a test of its ability to seize the island, which it claims. The drills followed the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, who has vowed to safeguard self-ruling Taiwan's democracy.

Austin's meeting with Dong had been widely expected since they spoke by telephone in April, in what were the first substantive talks between the two powers' defense chiefs in nearly 18 months.

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President Joe Biden's administration and China have been stepping up communication to ease friction, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Beijing and Shanghai last month.

But defense talks had lagged behind until Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a resumption of military dialogue during a summit with Biden in California in November.

Lloyd Austin undergoes latest medical procedure

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has resumed his duties after undergoing another medical procedure on his bladder.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has resumed his duties after undergoing another medical procedure on his bladder.  © REUTERS

Austin will also travel next week to Cambodia for talks with defense ministers of the Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN and end his trip in France, where he will join President Joe Biden in commemorations of the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The trip was announced even though Austin late Friday handed over duties for about two-and-a-half hours to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, due to his latest medical procedure.

He "underwent a successful, elective, and minimally invasive follow-up non-surgical procedure" related to a previously reported bladder issue at the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington, Pentagon spokesperson Major General Pat Ryder said.

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During the procedure, Hicks served as acting secretary of defense, and Austin "resumed his functions and duties" as defense secretary later Friday evening and returned home, Ryder said.

The transparency comes after a furor when Austin vanished from public view for cancer treatment in December and again in January when he suffered complications.

A spotlight-shunning retired general, Austin (70) said later that he was a "pretty private guy" and did not want to burden others with his problems.

But Biden's Republican rivals went on the attack after it was revealed that Austin did not inform the chain of command.

Austin widely informed the government and public when he returned to the hospital in February for the bladder issue connected with Friday's procedure.

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS

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