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US and Chinese Defence Ministers Meet

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe in Cambodia on 15 November Tuesday to try to keep tensions under control between the two sides.

The one-and-a-half hour meeting on the side-lines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defence ministers conference was the first meeting between Austin and Wei after escalating tensions between the United States and China. China and the United States sought to de-escalate tensions with meetings between senior officials, and a senior US defence official described the talks between Austin and Wei as “productive” and “professional.”

“Both sides agreed that it is important for our countries to work together to ensure that competition does not degenerate into conflict, but competition remains the defining feature of the relationship” the US defence official told reporters. Citing steps that were shelved by Beijing following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the Taiwanese Parliament, the official said Austin wanted “to reopen a range of inter-military dialogues and mechanisms to help manage this competition responsibly.”

The Austin-Wei meeting took place after Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Bali on 14thNovember. This meeting was the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies. This was followed by a meeting between Xi and US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Asia-Pacific summit in Bangkok.

After Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, China conducted its largest and most aggressive exercise since the mid-1990s, sending warships, missiles and warplanes into the waters and skies around Taiwan. The US senior official said that Austin and Wei had a “long discussion” on Taiwan, and that the activities of Chinese military aircraft around Taiwan were brought up by Austin in talks with Wei. “Secretary Austin also expressed concern about the unsafe or risky PLA air response model as an area of particular concern, and they reviewed a number of regional issues, including Russia and North Korea” the official said.

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