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US, China to Resume Military-To-Military Communications: Lloyd Austin at Shangri-La Dialogue

All eyes are on the US-China relations at the Shangri-La Dialogue where the Philippines' president is expected to discuss the nation's claim on the disputed South China Sea.
Lloyd Austin speaks to Department of Defence personnel in February 2021. Photo: Wikipedia

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin met with China’s Defence Minister Dong Jun on Friday, on the sidelines of the the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

In recent years, the annual forum has become a barometer of US-China relations. Defence chiefs from around the world are in attendance.

What did the US defence secretary say?

The two nations will resume military-to-military communications “in the coming months,” Austin said.

He also welcomed plans for a “crisis-communications working group” with China by the end of the year, a statement released by the Pentagon said.

Austin expressed concern about Chinese military activity near Taiwan, adding that China should not use Taiwan’s political transition, “part of a normal, routine democratic process,” as a pretext for “coercive measures,” a Pentagon spokesperson said after the meeting.

He also underscored the importance of respect for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

What did the Chinese defence minister say?

Meanwhile, a Chinese defence spokesperson called the talks “positive, practical and constructive.”

However, in the meeting, China’s Dong Jun told Austin that Washington’s actions on Taiwan had seriously violated the One-China principle, spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters.

Dong further said that China was committed to resolving disagreements with the Philippines on the South China Sea but tolerance for provocations has a limit.

Touching on the conflict in Ukraine, Dong told Austin that China held an “impartial position.”

“We have honored our commitment not to provide weapons to either side of the conflict. In accordance with laws and regulations, we have implemented strict controls on exports of military items,” the spokesman said.

Dong also called on his US counterpart to help establish peace in the Middle East.

First US-China defence meeting since 2022

All eyes are on the ministers and their first substantive in-person interaction since 2022. The meeting offers hopes for more military dialogues between the superpowers on contentious issues like Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Just a week ago, China held military drills around Taiwan and warned of war over the US-backed territory after President Lai Ching-te began his term in office. China has described him as a “dangerous separatist.”

Austin is scheduled to deliver a speech at the forum on Saturday while Dong will speak on Sunday.

“China believes that high-level China-US strategic military communications help stabilize military-to-military relations; China maintains an open attitude towards this,” Chinese Defence Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said on Thursday.

The US and China have been making efforts to step up and keep communication lines open over the last several months, after relations between the two countries hit rock bottom in the last couple of years due to an alleged Chinese spy balloon, tensions over Taiwan and the Philippines, and China’s support for Russia in its war in Ukraine. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing and Shanghai last month.

China scrapped military communications with the United States in 2022 in response to then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The two sides finally agreed to a summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Biden in November of 2023.

South China Sea tensions on the agenda

The event’s spotlight is on Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is likely to discuss the Philippines’ legal and geopolitical claim on the South China Sea while speaking on the importance of the maritime region for global trade.

China has claimed sovereignty over the shoals and most of the South China Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the US has repeatedly said that it will defend the Philippines in the disputed maritime region. Just in April, the two countries conducted a joint military drill called the “Balikatan exercise.” The 2024 drills were the first to take place outside of Philippine territorial waters.

This article was originally published on DW.

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