China and the U.S. Are Arranging an In-Person Meeting Between Heads of Defense

China and the U.S. Are Arranging an In-Person Meeting Between Heads of Defense
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Islam News – China and the U.S. are working to finalize what would be the first face-to-face meeting between their current top defense officials on the sidelines of a conference in Singapore in June amid rising tensions over Taiwan, according to people familiar with the situation, said the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said he will travel to the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defense conference to be held this year June 10-12. The attendance of Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe hasn’t been announced, but he intends to participate in person, according to the people.

Defense ministers and other officials typically meet in private before and during the conference. A meeting between Mr. Austin and Gen. Wei would take on extra significance because of increased tension between the U.S. and China over Taiwan.

Beijing reacted angrily after President Biden said during a recent visit to Tokyo that the U.S. would get involved militarily in response to any Chinese invasion of Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China says should be governed by Beijing.

Gen. Wei, who was the commander of China’s strategic missile force and was appointed defense minister in 2018, held talks with then acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan during the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2019. The event, organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, didn’t take place in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

The people cautioned that a meeting between Gen. Wei and Mr. Austin had not been fixed and plans could still change. China’s Ministry of Defense didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, and a Pentagon press officer said there was no information immediately available about a meeting.

Mr. Austin and Gen. Wei spoke for the first time by phone in April. The two discussed defense relations, regional security issues and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the Pentagon’s account of the call.

In the China Defense Ministry’s slightly different summary of that conversation, Gen. Wei said it would have a “disruptive impact” on China-U.S. relations if the Taiwan question isn’t handled well, and that China’s military would defend national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.

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There are no clear signs China intends to attempt to seize Taiwan by force, but it hasn’t ruled out the use of its military to try to bring the island under its control.

U.S. administrations have long maintained a policy of not clarifying whether the U.S. military would intervene if China invaded Taiwan, an approach intended to deter a conflict. Following his comments in Tokyo, Mr. Biden said U.S. policy toward Taiwan hasn’t changed.

The Chinese defense minister’s last face-to-face encounter with his American counterpart came in Bangkok in November 2019, when he met with then Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Mr. Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month that he expected to meet with Gen. Wei in Singapore and hoped a face-to-face encounter would “promote security and stability in the region.”

“We both recognize the importance of a dialogue and maintaining open channels,” said Mr. Austin. “I look forward to again engaging him in the future—in the not-too-distant future.”

The Asian security summit has been used as a venue for Chinese and American military officials to lower the temperature on the array of hostilities between Washington and Beijing. In 2018, Gen. Wei met with his American counterpart, Jim Mattis, and invited the latter for a visit to Beijing.

Mr. Mattis traveled to Beijing a few weeks later for meetings with Gen. Wei and President Xi Jinping. The Chinese defense ministry said the visit “yielded positive, constructive results.”

Preparations are also being made for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to make the keynote speech at the start of this year’s conference, according to people familiar with the planning. An appearance by Mr. Kishida as keynote speaker would be the first by a Japanese prime minister since Shinzo Abe gave a speech to open the 2014 conference.

Mr. Kishida has said Japan plans to significantly increase defense spending because of increasing threats in the region, and has said Tokyo should consider developing its own ability to hit enemy military bases that threaten Japan.

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said it wasn’t yet decided whether Mr. Kishida would speak at the Singapore conference.

Japan is concerned about a possible conflict over Taiwan because of the close proximity of its southern island chain, including the island of Okinawa, which hosts major U.S. military bases.

Gen. Wei is unusually blunt for a Chinese leader. During the 2019 gathering in Singapore, he caused a stir by commenting openly on the Chinese military’s bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. He said military action was the best choice available at the time, and credited it with opening a path to China’s peaceful development in the following decades.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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