WASHINGTON (Kyodo) – US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had a phone call on Wednesday with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe amid growing rivalry between the two countries, marking the first known communication between the two officials since Austin became Pentagon chief last year.
They discussed bilateral defense relations, regional security issues and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US Department of Defense said, without elaborating. The two sides probably remained apart in matters of Ukraine and Taiwan.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, Wei expressed dissatisfaction with what his country sees as measures to smear or pressure Beijing over its stance on Ukraine issues.
The United States has called on China to use its cooperation ties with Russia to help end the war, while raising concerns that Beijing is considering helping Russia directly with military equipment for use in Ukraine.
In Taiwan, an autonomous democratic island that Beijing considers its own, Wei warned that improper handling of the issue would “have a subversive effect” on China-US relations, according to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua.
The United States has demanded that China halt its military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan as well as its provocative military activity, calling it destabilizing behavior that increases the risk of miscalculations.
“China hopes to establish healthy and stable relations between the major countries with the United States,” Wei of Xinhua said. But he also said China will defend its national interests and dignity.
The Pentagon said in a press release that the talks took place as a follow-up to the recent call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in March.
In the video call, Biden Xi warned of the “consequences” Beijing will face if it steps in to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in late February.