Defense Secretary Austin Speaks With Chinese Counterpart For First Time In More Than A Year

(Photo by CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday for the first time since the Biden administration announced restored military communications with Beijing, the Pentagon said.

The video call was Austin’s first with Chinese Adm. Dong Jun, recently appointed the Chinese Minister of National Defense, and the first at-length conversation with the Chinese head of defense since Austin met former defense minister Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of a conference in November 2022, according to Reuters. President Joe Biden said he reached an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to restore formal military-to-military communication after a November meeting of an economic group that took place in San Francisco.

The two “discussed U.S.-PRC defense relations and regional and global security issues,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement, using the Pentagon’s acronym for China. Austin also “emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC.” (RELATED: While Eyes Are On The Middle East, The US Navy Has Been Staring Down China Near Taiwan)

They also discussed U.S.-Taiwan relations, the war in Ukraine and North Korea’s recent attempts to provoke tensions by test-firing ballistic missiles.

“The Secretary also reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate – safely and responsibly – wherever international law allows,” Ryder said.

Two formal dialogue mechanisms Beijing had spurned since former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August of 2022, the Defense Policy Coordination Talks and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, resumed in January and early April, the statement read. Delegations from the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army and U.S. Navy and Air Force officials controlled by Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) met April 3 and 4 to discuss repeated unsafe and unprofessional instances the U.S. had warned could cause injuries or escalation.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C. Q. Brown, Jr., and his counterpart in Beijing, Gen. Liu Zhenli, first ended more than 16 months of broken communication at the highest levels in December. The two discussed a variety of “global and regional security issues” as the Pentagon warned about the dangers of a prolonged disruption in military-to-military communication.

Increasing chances of accidental escalation during one of Beijing’s many aggressive air interceptions of U.S. aircraft or threats to Taiwan and U.S. allies in the region particularly troubled the Pentagon.

In October, Austin turned down an invitation to attend a high-profile defense forum held in Beijing while the role of Chinese defense minister position remained vacant, opting to send another U.S. official in his place. Former defense minister Li Shangfu had shunned an offer to engage with Austin that previous May.

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