Austin speaks with Chinese counterpart

By Tony Bertuca / April 16, 2024 at 9:38 AM

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken with his Chinese counterpart Minister of Defense Adm. Dong Jun, establishing a line of communication that has been severed for nearly two years.

A senior defense official previewed the call for reporters on the condition of anonymity, saying the intent is part of the broader Biden administration effort to ensure that competition with China “doesn’t veer into conflict.”

The call marks the first time Austin has spoken with Dong, who assumed the top Chinese military post last year when his predecessor was removed without explanation.

“This is an important step,” said the official, who noted that the Pentagon and the Chinese military continue to discuss opportunities for further engagement.

Direct military-to-military communication with China was broken off in December 2022 when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visited the self-governed island of Taiwan which Beijing considers a renegade province.

A thaw in diplomatic relations, however, began in November 2023 when President Biden met with China’s President Xi Jinping in San Francisco.

In December 2023, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown held a video call with his Chinese counterpart for the first time.

More recently, military officials from the United States and China met in Honolulu, HI, to discuss the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, an annual meeting that had been paused for two years.

Meanwhile, the senior defense official said the Pentagon continues to view China as its “pacing challenge,” per the 2022 National Defense Strategy.

“These engagements provide us with opportunities to prevent competition from veering into conflict by speaking candidly about our concerns, that includes [the People’s Republic of China’s] behavior in the South China Sea as well as the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the official said.