WASHINGTON: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun via video teleconference on Tuesday, the Pentagon said, in the first substantive talks between the superpowers’ defence chiefs in nearly 18 months.

The United States has been working to strengthen defence cooperation with its allies in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China’s growing influence, but also wants to maintain lines of communication with Beijing to prevent tensions from spiraling out of control.

“The two officials discussed US-PRC defence relations and regional and global security issues,” the Pentagon said in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“Secretary Austin emphasised the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC” following talks between the two sides in recent months, the statement said.

Austin also “reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows,” and “underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea”.

Austin’s last significant interaction with a Chinese counterpart occurred in November 2022 in Cambodia.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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