Pentagon head to China: ‘The right time to talk is now’

Singapore, Jun 3 (EFE).- United States Defense Secretary LLoyd Austin told his Chinese counterpart Saturday from a security forum in Singapore to sit down and talk to resolve their differences after Beijing’s refusal to a meeting between the two on the sidelines of the conference.

“For responsible defense leaders, the right time to talk is any time. The right time to talk is every time, and the right time to talk is now,” Austin said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s most important security forum. The summit, which began Friday and ends Sunday, is also being attended by Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu.

“A handshake is not enough,” Austin added, alluding to the brief greeting that the two exchanged Friday at the Dialogue’s opening dinner, after Beijing on Monday rejected Washington’s request that the defense chiefs of the two superpowers hold a bilateral meeting.

One of the main obstacles for the meeting to take place is that Li, appointed defense minister in March, was sanctioned in 2018 by the United States, accused of buying weapons from the Russian state company Rosoboronexport.

“I am deeply concerned” by China’s refusal, Austin said. “The more that we talk, the more that we can avoid the misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to crisis or conflict.”

Although the meeting between Austin and Li may not go ahead, high-level contacts between Beijing and Washington continue, and American media reported Friday that CIA director Bill Burns made a secret trip to China last month, his first visit to the Asian country since he took office.

The Pentagon chief also accused China of “continuing to carry out risky maneuvers” after a Chinese fighter intercepted a suspected US spy plane May 26 over the South China Sea on May 26.

“We are determined to keep this region open, peaceful and prosperous. The Indo-Pacific has become an extraordinary example of progress and cooperation,” Austin said, adding that the US has “doubled down” its alliances with partners such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan.

“We do not seek conflict or confrontation, but we will not waver in the face of coercion or abuse,” he added, alluding to China, noting especially the case of Taiwan.

“The US will continue to categorically oppose a change in the (Taiwan) status quo by any party,” he said.

China’s defense minister said Thursday from Singapore that Beijing wasn’t ruling out force to seize the island, which China has considered a rogue province since Kuomintang nationalists withdrew there in 1949 after losing the civil war.

Lloyd said the conflict is “neither inevitable nor imminent,” adding that a confrontation in the Taiwan Strait “would be devastating, so we are determined to keep the peace and stability.” EFE


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