US, Chinese defense chiefs to meet following Taiwan tension

US, Chinese defense chiefs to meet following Taiwan tension

on May 25, 2024

More in Asia:

This undated handout photograph released on May 24, 2024 by the Eastern Theater Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) shows a Chinese rocket launcher at a base during the “Joint Sword-2024A” military drill in eastern China’s Fujian province. – China warned on May 24 of war over Taiwan and said it would ramp up countermeasures until “complete reunification” was achieved, as Chinese forces conducted military drills around the self-ruled island. (Photo by EASTERN THEATER COMMAND OF THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY / AFP)

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2024 (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his Chinese counterpart, the Pentagon announced Friday, after Beijing carried out war games around Taiwan in a sign to the US-backed democracy’s new leader.

The Pentagon said that Austin would meet Chinese Admiral Dong Jun when they attend the May 31-June 2 Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of defense officials around the world.

China this week encircled Taiwan with warships and fighter jets in a test of its ability to seize the island, which it claims. The drills followed the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, who has vowed to safeguard self-ruling Taiwan’s democracy.

Austin’s meeting with Dong had been widely expected since they spoke by telephone in April, in what were the first substantive talks between the two powers’ defense chiefs in nearly 18 months.

President Joe Biden’s administration and China have been stepping up communication to ease friction, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Beijing and Shanghai last month.

But defense talks had lagged behind until Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a resumption of military dialogue during a summit with Biden in California in November.

Austin will also travel next week to Cambodia for talks with defense ministers of the Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN and end his trip in France, where he will join President Joe Biden in commemorations of the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The trip was announced even though Austin late Friday handed over duties for about two-and-a-half hours to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, due to his latest medical procedure.

Austin is a key figure in Western efforts to support Ukraine against a Russian offensive.

He “underwent a successful, elective, and minimally invasive follow-up non-surgical procedure” related to a previously reported bladder issue at the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said.

During the procedure, Hicks served as acting secretary of defense, and Austin “resumed his functions and duties” as defense secretary later Friday evening and returned home, Ryder said.

The transparency comes after a furor when Austin vanished from public view for cancer treatment in December and again in January when he suffered complications.

A spotlight-shunning retired general, Austin, 70, said later that he was a “pretty private guy” and did not want to burden others with his problems.

But Biden’s Republican rivals went on the attack after it was revealed that Austin did not inform the chain of command.

Austin widely informed the government and public when he returned to the hospital in February for the bladder issue connected with Friday’s procedure.