Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to hold his first in-person meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that starts this Friday.
The meeting will come amid soaring tensions between the US and China over Taiwan. Wei is expected to ask Austin to clarify US policy concerning the island after President Biden said the US would intervene in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
The White House quickly walked back Biden’s comments on Taiwan, which came during a high-profile visit to Japan, and insisted it did not mean a change in US policy.
A source close to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) told The South China Morning Post that besides Taiwan, the two military chiefs will likely discuss “Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and other regional and global issues.”
The US and Chinese militaries are also at odds over the South China Sea. The US has rejected China’s claims to most of the waters and has ramped up air and sea patrols in the region, angering Beijing and increasing the chances of an accident between the two militaries.
The Austin-Wei meeting is a chance to reduce tensions between the two powers, but that is unlikely, as the Biden administration has made clear that it views Beijing as an adversary despite the robust trade relationship. The Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy identified China as the top “threat” facing the US military, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken has named Beijing the “most serious long-term challenge” to the US-led global order.