US defense chief speaks with Chinese counterpart, Pentagon says

 – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with China’s defense minister on Tuesday, the first engagement the two have had in more than a year as the two countries seek to restore military ties.

The phone call comes as US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have sought to manage tensions; the two leaders last year resumed direct military talks.

In a readout after the call, the Pentagon said Mr. Austin “underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.”

An escalating diplomatic dispute and recent maritime run-ins between China and the Philippines, a US treaty ally, have made the highly strategic South China Sea a potential flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

China and US should explore ways to “get along” and “gradually accumulate mutual trust” by building a “non-conflict, non-confrontation”, pragmatic and cooperative relationship between their militaries, the Chinese defense ministry cited its minister as saying during the phone call.

Minister Dong Jun said the US should recognize China’s position on South China Sea, and respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests there.

He also stressed that the Taiwan issue is “core of China’s core interests.”

The Pentagon said the two also discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine, North Korea, and Washington’s commitment to the so-called one China policy.

Austin last spoke with his Chinese counterpart in 2022, when he met China’s defense minister at the time, Wei Fenghe, on the sidelines of a gathering of Southeast Asian countries in Cambodia.

Before the November meeting between Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi, relations between the superpowers had become increasingly acrimonious, with friction over issues from Taiwan to China’s military activity in the South China Sea.

In October, the US military said Chinese military aircraft had carried out risky or reckless maneuvers close to US aircraft nearly 200 times since 2021.

Since then, the United States’ top military general has spoken with his Chinese counterpart.

This month, US military officials met their Chinese counterparts for meetings in Hawaii focused on how the two countries can operate safely.

US military officials have long sought to maintain open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts to mitigate the risk of potential flare-ups or deal with any accidents.

“Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC,” the Pentagon said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China. – Reuters