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Austin expresses ‘concern’ to China defense chief over its activities in Taiwan Strait

Austin expresses ‘concern’ to China defense chief over its activities in Taiwan Strait
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US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) leaves a meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore on May 31, 2024, as part of his attendance at the 21st Shangri-La Dialogue summit. The US and Chinese defence chiefs will hold rare direct talks in Singapore on May 31, offering hopes for more military dialogue that could help prevent disputes over Taiwan and other flashpoint issues from spinning out of control.

Nhac Nguyen | Afp | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed concern over China’s naval activity in the Taiwan Strait to his Chinese counterpart Admiral Dong Jun on Friday, reiterating the stance that China “should not use Taiwan’s political transition … as a pretext for coercive measures.”

The meeting between the two on the sidelines of the Shangri-La summit in Singapore was the first in person talk between Chinese and U.S. defense chiefs since November 2022.

CNBC witnessed the two delegations walking out of the meeting venue, but neither Dong nor Austin responded to reporters’ questions.

According to a readout from the Pentagon, Austin said that the U.S. remains committed to its “one China” policy. He also told Dong that the U.S. will continue to “fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows.”

Austin also reaffirmed the announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November that both sides will resume telephone conversations between theater commanders in the coming months, as well as welcoming plans to convene a crisis-communications working group by the end of the year.  

Chinese defense ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters during a news conference that the meeting allowed the two sides to gain a better understanding on Taiwan, adding there were “positive effects.”

Wu also highlighted “one meeting cannot fix all the problems in a military to military relationship, but having a meeting is better than no meeting at all.” He also added that more communication is necessary and will help to stabilize the military to military relations. 

He said the two defense chiefs also discussed Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Gaza conflict. The Pentagon readout mentioned Austin and Dong discussed North Korea’s provocations, such as its contributions to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Friday’s meeting follows a video teleconference call between Austin and Dong in April. The Pentagon said U.S. Department of Defense officials “will continue active discussions with their PRC counterparts about future engagements between defense and military officials at multiple levels.”

— CNBC’s Lin Lin contributed to this report.

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