Austin speaks with Chinese counterpart for first time in nearly two years

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday morning spoke with his Chinese counterpart, reestablishing top-level military communications between the two countries for the first time in nearly two years.  

Austin and Chinese Minister of Defense Adm. Dong Jun, who spoke via video teleconference, discussed U.S.-China defense relations, operating in the South China Sea and U.S. policy toward Taiwan, as well as the war in Ukraine and recent provocations from North Korea, according to a Pentagon readout of the call. 

Speaking to reporters ahead of the call, a senior defense official said the dialogue is meant to ensure that competition with China “doesn’t veer into conflict.” 

“We think having these open lines of communication is important to avoid any kind of misperception, misunderstanding, miscalculation, anything that would cause competition to spiral into conflict,” they said.

This is the first time Austin has ever spoken with Dong, who took over as China’s top military official in December after his predecessor was removed without explanation, and the first time the Pentagon chief had a substantive exchange with a Chinese counterpart since November 2022. 

Austin had interacted with then- Minister of Defense Li Shangfu in June at a dinner in Singapore while both were attending a defense forum, but the two only shook hands as China had rejected a U.S. invitation for a formal meeting. 

The call marks another step in the thaw in diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing, coming about five months after a meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco. The two also spoke over the phone earlier this month.  

China had ended most military communication with the United States after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan in August 2022. The trip sparked condemnation from China, which views the independent island as its own territory and has threatened to bring it under its control by force.  

But after Biden and Xi’s meeting, where the two agreed to open more lines of dialogue, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. C.Q. Brown held a video call with his Chinese counterpart in December, the first time the two had spoken.  

U.S. and Chinese military officials also met in Waikiki, Hawaii earlier this month to discuss the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) — a typically annual meeting meant to reduce any air and sea clashes between the two.  

An additional set of MMCA meetings is expected later this year, the official said. They added that the two sides “are continuing to discuss future engagements between our senior defense and military leaders.” 

Click here to see original article