Shangri-La Dialogue: US and Chinese defense chiefs swap barbs over Taiwan in first face-to-face meeting

The US is committed to its one-China policy, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, but warned that the Chinese military has become increasingly aggressive, insecure and unprofessional in the region, a US defense official said. after. the meeting during the Shangri-La Dialogue.

The US official said the actions of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reflect recent statements by Chinese officials who suggest Beijing may be changing the status quo regarding Taiwan, a democratically controlled island that China claims as its sovereign territory.

“Secretary Austin also expressed concern about … statements by PLA officials that the Taiwan Strait is not international waters. [People’s Republic of China] officials have said that to the United States several times in recent months and it is very worrying,” the official said.

A Chinese military spokesman specifically responded to US statements in a briefing after the meeting, saying it was not Beijing that upset decades of policies that have brought stability to the Taiwan Strait.

“It is not the mainland that is changing the status quo, it is Taiwan’s independence forces…and outside forces that are trying to change the status quo,” Senior Colonel Wu Qian said at a news conference after the meeting.

A Chinese statement about the meeting said Wei specifically pointed to a recently announced $120 million US arms sale to the island. The new arms sales will relate to “naval vessel spare parts and related technical assistance,” Taiwan’s defense ministry said Thursday.

“The US again announced arms sales to Taiwan, which has seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests. China strongly opposes and strongly condemns this,” the Chinese statement said.

The issue of Taiwan took up most of the Austin-Wei meeting, the US official said.

Ukraine

Russia’s war on Ukraine also proved to be a contentious issue.

Austin urged his Chinese counterpart not to provide material aid to Russia, the US official said.

During the Chinese press conference after the meeting, Wu emphasized that China had not done this.

“China has not provided military aid to Russia. That’s for sure,” Wu said.

Despite those differences, Wu described the meeting, which lasted nearly an hour, almost twice as long as planned, as a “good effect.”

It was “candid,” but “positive and constructive,” he said.

The meeting took place during Austin’s fourth trip to the Indo-Pacific region following a formal request from China’s military leadership.

The two also spoke about the US desire to establish more robust lines of communication between the two militaries to prevent competition between two world powers from turning into conflict. The official said Minister Wei responded to the idea of ​​establishing crisis communication mechanisms, suggesting more concrete results on these mechanisms could be forthcoming later this year.

“I would expect there to be additional open channels, including military-to-military channels, whether from INDOPACOM or the President [of the Joint Chiefs]† I think both sides will probably be open to that in the coming months,” the official said.

Before the meeting, a US defense official said Washington would try to establish lines of communication at the highest levels of the military as a mechanism to avoid situations that would result in conflict between the two Pacific powers. The US also wants to see communication mechanisms between theater-level commanders, officials said.

“This was a priority for us in the defense relationship,” the official said.

Wu, the Chinese spokesman, said the next steps in the US-China relationship would be to conduct exchanges and talks on cooperation through both military and diplomatic channels.

“The Chinese side thinks it’s better to meet than not to meet and it’s better to talk than not to talk,” he said.

Eric Cheung of CNN contributed to this report.

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