Chinese, US defense chiefs hold first in-person meeting since 2022
Published: May 31, 2024 02:07 PM
China US Photo:VCG

China US Photo:VCG

The first in-person meeting between Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was positive, practical and constructive, said Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson in Singapore on Friday afternoon, adding China is open to more military communications.

Dong and Austin held their first bilateral meeting on Friday at Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, the first in-person talk between Chinese and US defense chiefs since November 2022.

The meeting, which was a positive, practical and constructive communication at the strategic level, lasted 75 minutes, a bit longer than previously scheduled, Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters during a press conference after the bilateral meeting.

During the meeting, the two defense leaders exchanged views on the state-to-state and military-to-military relations between China and the US, as well as the Taiwan question, the South China Sea issue, the Ukraine crisis, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Wu introduced.

During the meeting, Dong expressed China's firm position on the Taiwan question. Regarding US congratulations to Taiwan new regional leader Lai Ching-te's "inauguration" and sending a delegation to the "inauguration ceremony," Dong said the Taiwan question is purely an internal affair, and that external forces have no right to interfere. The behaviors of the US side seriously breached the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-US joint communiques, severely violating the commitments made by the US side and sending wrong signals to "Taiwan independence" secessionist forces. The Chinese side firmly opposes this and urges the US side to take concrete actions to correct its mistakes and not use any military means to support "Taiwan independence".

On the South China Sea issue, Dong stated that currently, emboldened and supported by outside powers, the Philippines has broken its own promises and continues to make provocations on the issue of Ren'ai Jiao. In particular, the US has deployed a mid-range missile system to the Philippines under the guise of military exercises. China strongly opposes this deployment, which poses a real threat to regional security. We remain committed to resolving disagreements with the Philippine side through consultation, on an equal footing, and based on honoring previous commitment. However, China will not tolerate behaviors that continue to escalate provocations.

With the meeting like this, the two sides can have a deeper and firsthand understanding of each other's positions, Wu added.

Regarding whether China and the US will resume theater-level military commanders' communication, Wu said related departments will stay in consultation on that.

Photo: Li Aixin/GT

Photo: Li Aixin/GT

The meeting comes after their video call in April.

To implement the important consensus reached during the November summit meeting between Chinese and US presidents in San Francisco, the two militaries have resumed dialogue and consultations on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect.

On December 21, 2023, General Liu Zhenli, Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (CMC), had a video talk with General Charles Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military.

In January, the 17th China-US Defense Policy Coordination Talks were held in Washington DC in the US. In April, Chinese and US militaries held a working group meeting of the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement in Hawaii. In May, the director of the Office for International Military Cooperation under China's CMC held video talks with the US Assistant Secretary of Defense.

These meetings paved the way for the face-to-face talks between the two defense ministers at Shangri-La Dialogue.

The meeting comes amid the escalating tension in the South China Sea resulting from the Philippines' moves and after large-scale exercises by the Chinese People's Liberation Army to deter "Taiwan independence" forces.

The meeting represents a positive action by Chinese and US militaries in implementing the consensus reached at the San Francisco summit. It marks a crucial step of turning the San Francisco Vision into reality, Lieutenant General He Lei, former vice president of the Academy of Military Sciences of the PLA, told the Global Times.

He Lei said the in-person talks indicate the beginning of the restoration of normal high-level interactions between Chinese and American militaries. This is conducive to stabilizing and improving the military relationship between the two countries and helping the ties move forward positively.

It is also an opportunity for China's newly appointed defense minister, Admiral Dong, to reaffirm China's principled positions on core interests and major issues face-to-face with Austin. This contributes positively to enhancing mutual understanding between military leaders and managing differences and risks between the two militaries, He Lei noted.

The view is echoed by Cao Yanzhong, a research fellow at the Academy of Military Sciences of the PLA. Cao told Global Times that high-level face-to-face meetings can establish consensus at the strategic level, not only guiding strategic direction but also constraining the actions of frontline forces when they come into contact.

On the other hand, He Lei stressed that it is essential to emphasize that the US must demonstrate sincerity and integrity by genuinely fulfilling President Biden's repeated commitments, i.e., the US does not seek a new Cold War, does not seek to change China's system, does not seek to revitalize its alliances against China, does not support "Taiwan independence," and has no intention to have a conflict with China.

The US' actions must match words to avoid empty promises, He Lei said.

Some public opinions are portraying that Chinese delegation is facing greater pressure in this year's dialogue, given the agenda arrangement - having Philippine President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr to deliver keynote address at the opening ceremony on Friday evening, besides traditional US speech that is often harsh on China. Wu responded that he did not feel this way because China stands with justice and righteousness. "I would like to quote from a poem to describe my feeling - despite rising wind and waves, we can sit tight in the fishing boat."