U.S. and Chinese Defense Officials Meet in Bid to Cool Regional Tensions

SINGAPORE — In their first face-to-face talks, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and China’s protection minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, warned one another about dangerous strikes over the disputed island of Taiwan, at the same time as they sought to strengthen guardrails to forestall regional tensions from escalating into disaster.

The meeting between Mr. Austin and General Wei, on Friday in Singapore, was solely their second bilateral encounter, following a telephone name in April, regardless of the rising rivalry between the 2 international locations and worries that miscalculation would possibly spiral into disaster.

Mr. Austin “underscored the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue on improving crisis communications and reducing strategic risk,” the Pentagon mentioned in an announcement after the meeting. Mr. Austin additionally informed General Wei that the United States opposed any unilateral strikes to change the standing of Taiwan — a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its personal — and urged China to “to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan.”

General Wei, nonetheless, threw duty on the United States for worsening tensions over Taiwan, telling Mr. Austin that U.S. weapons gross sales to the island “gravely damage China’s sovereignty and security interests,” the Chinese Ministry of National Defense said in its summary of their talks.

Since 1949, when Nationalist forces fled China for Taiwan, the standing and way forward for the island has been disputed. Beijing claims it as its sovereign territory; most individuals on Taiwan reject that declare and need to keep separate — in reality, if not in legislation — from the People’s Republic of China. Washington has lengthy maintained that neither aspect ought to unilaterally attempt to change the standing of Taiwan, however U.S. laws additionally permits for supporting the island’s defenses and probably intervening if warfare breaks out.

“Using Taiwan to contain China will never succeed,” General Wei mentioned, in accordance to China’s official abstract. “The Chinese government and military will resolutely smash any schemes for ‘Taiwan independence’ and will resolutely defend unification of the motherland.”

Despite the general public sparring over Taiwan, either side additionally indicated that Mr. Austin and General Wei had made some progress throughout their meeting, which lasted about an hour. Senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese protection ministry, informed reporters in Singapore that the talks had additionally lined the South China Sea — the place China’s extensive territorial claims are contested by Southeast Asian international locations — in addition to the warfare in Ukraine.

“China has always believed that it’s better to meet than not meet, and better to talk than not,” mentioned Colonel Wu mentioned. He added that the talks marked a “very good start” for improved contacts between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, the most important and second-biggest in the world.

China has been flexing its army would possibly in Asia in ways in which have raised alarms in the area and in Washington. In latest days, American allies have complained about Chinese army jets harassing their planes, flying so shut that the pilots might see one another, or making provocative, dangerous maneuvers, reminiscent of releasing metallic chaff in the trail of an Australian plane. Last month, China and Russia held a joint army train, sending bombers over the seas in northeast Asia as President Biden was visiting the area.

“It’s possible that the Chinese are testing U.S. allies to see if they’ll back down,” mentioned Zack Cooper, a senior fellow on the American Enterprise Institute who research U.S. coverage in Asia and was attending the Singapore dialogue. “They may be more likely to test these other countries to see if they are less risk tolerant.”

But Taiwan is maybe the best supply of tensions between the United States and China. American officers and army commanders fear that China’s chief, Xi Jinping, could also be prepared to go to warfare over Taiwan in the approaching years. President Biden has indicated a number of occasions that the United States would step in with army help to defend Taiwan if Beijing launched an invasion. China has escalated its army exercise close to Taiwan in latest years, sending jets to enter its air protection zone.

“In the short to medium term a Taiwan conflict is far more likely to occur by accident than design,” mentioned a report issued on the Singapore discussion board by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British suppose tank. “Indeed, as Chinese coercion of Taiwan intensifies, the risk of inadvertent escalation is rising.”

China has responded angrily to Washington’s help of Taiwan, together with its plans to strengthen commerce ties with the island, accusing it of fueling tensions in the area. Chinese officers have additionally pushed again towards the Biden administration’s broader effort to build alliances to counter China. The Chinese authorities denounced a safety settlement between Australia, Britain and the United States final year that may assist Australia deploy nuclear-powered submarines, elevating expectations that it will be part of any army battle with Beijing.

The danger of battle has grown as China’s army has expanded into the world’s second largest, with a navy rivaling America’s in dimension, and as Beijing has turn out to be more and more impatient with the U.S. army presence throughout Asia.

But Covid restrictions and disagreements over meeting preparations, reminiscent of who Mr. Austin’s counterpart can be, have stood in the best way of high-level talks between Chinese and American army leaders.

Despite their related titles, Mr. Lloyd and General Wei occupy very completely different ranks. Mr. Lloyd is essentially the most senior American civilian in the Pentagon; the Chinese protection minister is a comparatively junior position whose fundamental job is contacts overseas. Mr. Lloyd has but to meet Mr. Xi, the Chinese chief who can also be chairman of the Central Military Commission, or different high-ranking commanders on the fee.

Even so, consultants attending the discussion board in Singapore noticed worth in the meeting between the 2 males. Over the previous few a long time, China and the United States have constructed a patchwork of agreements and communications traces supposed to keep away from misunderstandings in addition to collisions at sea or in the air that may spin into broader confrontation. But Beijing and Washington don’t see eye to eye on how to scale back these dangers.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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