US, Chinese Defense Chiefs Talk for First Time Since 2022

China's previous defense minister was under US sanctions

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Chinese Defense Minister Adm. Dong Jun, marking the first communication between the two nations’ defense chiefs since November 2022.

High-level military communication between the US and China has been impeded for several reasons, including US sanctions on Dong’s predecessor, Li Shangfu, who was removed in October 2023 amid rumors that he was under investigation for corruption.

While Li served as China’s defense minister, the Biden administration refused to lift sanctions that were imposed on him in 2018 over a Chinese purchase of Russian military equipment.

The conversation between Austin and Dong came amid soaring tensions between the US and China over the South China Sea, where Philippine and Chinese vessels have been having frequent tense encounters near disputed rocks and reefs. Last week, President Biden hosted Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to boost trilateral military cooperation in the name of countering China.

According to the Pentagon, Austin and Dong discussed the South China Sea, the war in Ukraine, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Austin made clear that the US would continue to operate its military in the South China Sea and other sensitive areas near China. “The Secretary also reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate – safely and responsibly – wherever international law allows,” the Pentagon said.

The US and Chinese militaries have also been engaging more at a lower level after a long period of virtually no communication. China suspended military talks with the US following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ultra-provocative trip to Taiwan in August 2022, which provoked the largest-ever Chinese military drills around the island.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.