Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe held their first in-person meeting on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday and traded warnings over Taiwan.
According to the Pentagon, Austin told Beijing to “refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan” and warned against any changes to the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait.
China rejects the idea that it is trying to change the status quo and blames recent tensions on increasing US support for Taiwan. “It is not the mainland that is changing the status quo, it is Taiwan independence forces … and outside forces that are trying to change the status quo,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said after the meeting.
As Chinese officials have warned before, Wei told Austin that if the US encourages “independence forces” in Taiwan, it would lead to war. “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs and take all necessary measures to crush any attempt by ‘Taiwan Separatists’ to split Taiwan from the motherland,” Wei said at the meeting, according to Wu.
Despite the warnings, Wu described the meeting as a “candid and constructive strategic dialogue.” The two military leaders were set to meet for a half-hour, but the talks lasted just under one hour. According to a senior Pentagon official, they spent most of the time talking about Taiwan.
The meeting came not long after President Biden said the US would defend Taiwan if China invades, which the White House quickly walked back and said was not a change in policy, but the comment still angered Beijing. Besides Biden’s rhetoric, China is also unhappy with the US for boosting informal ties with Taipei, a policy that started under the Trump administration and has continued under Biden as part of its strategy to counter Beijing.
Wei and Austin also discussed the South China Sea and the war in Ukraine. Wei warned Austin that the US shouldn’t use the war in Ukraine to hype up the Taiwan issue. “We will take countermeasures if someone wants to make an issue out of the Ukraine war by linking the Taiwan issue to the ongoing crisis, because it would undermine China’s interests,” he said.