Red line over Taiwan question reiterated in talks between Chinese, US defense chiefs
Americans urged to keep promises and eliminate root cause of crisis
Published: Nov 22, 2022 02:41 PM
Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Photo: from China's Ministry of National Defense

Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Photo: from China's Ministry of National Defense

The defense chiefs of China and the US met face to face for the first time in Cambodia on Tuesday since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's provocative visit to Taiwan island in early August, which was responded with large-scale military exercises around the island by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA). 

Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe drew the red line of the Taiwan question to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin once again after Chinese President Xi Jinping had done so to US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last week.

Aside from urging the US to honor the commitments made by Biden so that the China-US relations can resume healthy, stable development, the talks released a positive signal that would hopefully lower the risk of an unpredictable military confrontation and put the two countries' worsening military relations back on track, analysts said.

Wei, who is attending the ninth ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus in Cambodia, held talks with Austin here on Tuesday at the latter's request.

The talks were a practical measure to implement the important consensus reached during the meeting of the two countries' top leaders, and were of very important significance to promote China-US military ties to return to the right track of healthy, stable development, said Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, a spokesperson at China's Ministry of National Defense, at a press briefing in Cambodia after Wei and Austin's talks.

It was a frank, deep, pragmatic and constructive strategic communication, in which Wei briefed Austin the main information and important achievements of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and the two sides deeply exchanged views over the relations between the two countries and the two militaries, the Taiwan question as well as international and regional affairs, Tan said.

Both sides believe that the two militaries should earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the two countries' top leaders, keep communication channels open, deal with contradictions and divergences properly, enhance crisis management and make the best efforts to maintain an overall stability of military-to-military relations, Tan said.

Wei told Austin that Xi and Biden reached a series of important consensuses during their talks at the 17th Group of 20 Summit, charting the course for the development of China-US relations. The two countries should adhere to mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation, so that both sides can ensure China-US relations are heading toward the right direction together - no going off course, no stalling, and surely no collision.

China bears no responsibility for the situation China-US relations is facing now, as its main cause is the wrong strategic judgement by the US, Wei said.

China attaches great importance to the development of relations between the two countries and the two militaries, but the US side must respect China's core interests, the Chinese defense minister said.

He expressed the hope that the US could keep its words and promises, truly implement the consensuses reached by the two heads of state, and adopt rational and pragmatic policies toward China, and effectively eliminate the root of the cause of crisis, so as to push bilateral relations back to the track of healthy and stable development.

The US does not seek a new Cold War, does not seek to revitalize alliances against China, does not support "Taiwan independence," does not support "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan," and has no intention to have a conflict with China, Biden said in his meeting with Xi last week.

Wei-Austin meeting on Tuesday is the first time the two countries' defense chiefs have met personally since Pelosi's provocative visit to the Taiwan island in August, and the second time this year. The two had already met in Singapore at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' 19th Shangri-La Dialogue in June.

The meeting reportedly lasted about 90 minutes, longer than the June meeting which took about an hour, therefore allowing more topics to be discussed this time, experts said.

Right after Pelosi's reckless Taiwan visit, the PLA launched large-scale military exercises around the island, including launching conventional ballistic missiles over it, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced countermeasures including canceling the China-US Theater Commanders Talk, Defense Policy Coordination Talks and Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday that a meeting between the two defense chiefs in itself is a positive signal, as Pelosi's provocative visit to Taiwan island saw the two countries' military ties falling to rock-bottom.

It is always better for the two militaries to ease tensions, and it would serve no good to anyone if an unexpected military conflict breaks out between China and the US, Song said, adding that hopefully the American side can also seize the situation, as they should realize there is no room for compromise for the Chinese on the Taiwan question, Song said.

Core of core interests
Wei reiterated China's firm stance on the Taiwan question to Austin, as heemphasized that the Taiwan question is the core of China's core interests and the first insurmountable red line in China-US relations. Taiwan is China's Taiwan, and the settlement of the Taiwan question is the Chinese people's own affair and brooks no foreign interference.

Similar phrases were first used by Xi in his meeting with Biden last week, as Xi stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China's core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations.

Wei also told Austin that China's complete reunification must be and can be realized, and the Chinese military has the backbone, confidence and ability to resolutely safeguard national unification.

Over some time, the US has been blurring, hollowing out and distorting its one-China policy, frequently selling arms to the island of Taiwan, assisting in training the island's troops and sending senior officials to the island, which further escalated tensions in the Taiwan Straits, Tan said.

"Every US escalation and breakthrough on the Taiwan question is bound to meet China's resolute and powerful countermeasure," Tan said.

Resolving the Taiwan question has always been an important objective in the PLA's development, and as demonstrated in the "island encirclement" drills in August, the PLA is fully capable of locking down the island from external military interference, a Beijing-based military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The US must understand that interfering in the Taiwan question militarily is playing with fire and will not end up well for it, the expert said.

Wei and Austin also compared notes on the international and regional situation, and on issues including the Ukraine crisis, the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula.

These issues cover not only the Asia-Pacific region, but also Europe, as the world nowadays is not a peaceful place with the US deeply involved, observers said, 

The US should not be fanning the flames around the world or instigating instabilities for its own hegemony, analysts said.

But generally speaking, the meeting had good results as it was beneficial for both sides to improve understanding and avoid misjudgments, Tan said. For the next step, the two sides will keep communicating, implement the two countries' top leaders' important consensus together, and make efforts to put China-US military ties back on the right track, he said.