Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, in Cambodia on Tuesday as the US and China continue to maintain high-level dialogue following the meeting between President Biden and President Xi Jinping.
Austin and Wei agreed to resume military communication channels that Beijing suspended in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan, but the meeting was still tense.
A Pentagon official said after the meeting that despite the increase in communication, the US still believes “competition remains the defining feature of the relationship between the two nations.”
Austin and Wei delivered warnings over Taiwan, the most sensitive issue between the two powers. In recent years, the US has been increasing support for Taiwan, which China views as moving away from the one-China policy that was agreed on when Washington and Beijing normalized relations in the 1970s.
The Pentagon said in a readout of the meeting that Austin “underscored his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo” across the Taiwan Strait and called on China to “refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan.”
According to The South China Morning Post, Wei told Austin that it was the US, not China, that is looking to change the status quo. Wei reiterated that the “Taiwan issue is the core of China’s core interests” and a “red line” that must never be crossed. Xi delivered a similar warning to Biden during talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit last week.
Xi’s message to Biden was that the current state of US-China relations was not in either country’s interest and called to put the relationship back on track. But Biden approached the talks as a managing of tensions rather than a serious rapprochement.