US and China defense chiefs hold first talks in over a year amid tensions

Washington DC - US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun via video teleconference on Tuesday, in the first substantive talks between the superpowers' defense chiefs in nearly 18 months.

Secretary Lloyd Austin and his counterpart in China have held their first talks in more than a year.
Secretary Lloyd Austin and his counterpart in China have held their first talks in more than a year.  © Collage: IMAGO/SNA/Cover-Images

The US has been working to strengthen defense cooperation with its allies in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China's growing influence. In a bid to prevent spiraling tensions, however, the nation's department of defense wants to maintain lines of communication with Beijing.

Defense chiefs from China and US met less than a week after a trilateral summit between the US, Philippines, and Japan triggered Chinese authorities to slam its competitors for "wanton smears and attacks."

"The two officials discussed US-PRC defense relations and regional and global security issues," the Pentagon said in a statement, referring to the People's Republic of China.

Austin stresses need for improved communication

The US, Philippines and Japan held trilateral talks last week, triggering responses from China.
The US, Philippines and Japan held trilateral talks last week, triggering responses from China.  © IMAGO/Cover-Images

"Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC" following talks between the two sides in recent months, the statement said.

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

Beijing, in turn, said Dong had used the talks to call for greater "trust" between the two powers.

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"China and the United States should... take peace as the most precious, stability as the most important," Dong told Austin, according to a Beijing readout. "The military sphere is the key... to stabilizing the development of the relationship and preventing major crises from occurring."

Taking center stage, however, are tensions around Taiwan, with Beijing imploring US officials to "respect China's territorial sovereignty" both in the South China Sea and on the island nation.

"Dong Jun emphasized that the Taiwan issue is the core of China's core interests," the defense ministry readout said.

China was unwilling to agree to talks between Austin and Li while the latter was under American sanctions. Talks and diplomacy have also been stymied by increased defense ties targeted against China.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/SNA/Cover-Images

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