Austin expresses 'concerns' about Chinese activities in the South China Sea

U.S. 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 U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs will hold rare direct talks in Singapore on May 31, offering hope for more military dialogue that could help prevent disputes over Taiwan and other flashpoint issues from spiraling out of control.

Nhac Nguyen | Episode | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday expressed concern to his Chinese counterpart Admiral Dong Jun over Chinese naval activity in the Taiwan Strait, reiterating the position that China “should not use Taiwan's political transition as pretext for coercive measures.”

The meeting between the two on the sidelines of the Shangri-La summit in Singapore was the first face-to-face conversation between the two Chinese and American defense chiefs since November 2022.

CNBC witnessed the two delegations leave the meeting location, but neither Dong nor Austin responded to reporters' questions.

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

Austin also confirmed U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement in November that the two sides would resume phone calls between theater commanders in the coming months, and welcomed plans to convene a crisis communications working group by the end of the month. year.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told reporters at a news conference that the meeting allowed the two sides to gain a better understanding of Taiwan, adding that there were “positive effects.”

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

He said the two defense chiefs also discussed Russia's war in Ukraine and the conflict in Gaza. The Pentagon readout noted that 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. Defense Department officials “will continue active discussions with their counterparts in the People's Republic of China regarding future engagements between defense and military officials at multiple levels.”

— CNBC's Lin Lin contributed to this report.

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