US and Chinese defense chiefs meet amid strained relations

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The defense chiefs of the US and China held talks on Tuesday on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Cambodia to discuss strained bilateral ties and regional and global security issues, US and Chinese officials said.

This was the second face-to-face meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd J Austin II and China’s Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe in six months. It came just a week after a meeting in Indonesia between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, widely seen as an attempt to defuse tensions between the two superpowers over trade and China’s claim to Taiwan went.

Austin and Wei are in Siem Reap, Cambodia, participating in a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other major countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Already strained relations between Washington and Beijing soured further in August when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which is independently governed but claimed by China. The United States, Taiwan’s most important ally, maintains a long-standing “one China” policy that recognizes the government in Beijing but allows informal ties and defense ties with Taipei. And there is “strategic ambiguity” over whether the US will respond militarily to the island. attacked.

Biden said after meeting Xi that when it comes to China, the US “will absolutely compete, but I’m not looking for conflict.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Austin assured Wei of Biden’s commitment to the “one China” policy.

In a statement, Ryder said Austin “underlined his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo” and called on China to avoid destabilizing actions toward Taiwan.

He urged them to continue “reducing strategic risk, improving crisis communication, and enhancing operational security,” noting concerns over “dangerous behavior” by Chinese military aircraft “increasing accident risk.”

At a news conference, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Tan Kefei described Tuesday’s talks as “a concrete measure to implement the important consensus reached between Xi and Biden.”

He said the meeting was “extremely important” to put China-US relations “back on the track of healthy and stable development”.

But an official statement issued by China’s Defense Ministry quoted Wei as saying, “The responsibility for the current state of Sino-US relations lies with the US, not China.”

Wei said the Taiwan issue was a “red line” on which China would not tolerate any foreign interference. Wei said that China’s military has “spine, determination, self-confidence and the ability to resolutely defend the unity of the motherland.”

The defense ministry statement said the two sides also exchanged views on the South China Sea, Ukraine and the Korean Peninsula, without giving details. The US statement said Austin discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and that both Washington and Beijing “oppose the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.”

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