US, China defense chiefs hold first talks in nearly 18 months

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun via video teleconference Tuesday, in the first substantive talks between the superpowers' defense chiefs in nearly 18 months.

The United States has been working to strengthen defense cooperation with its allies in the Asia-Pacific region to counter China's growing influence but also wants to maintain lines of communication with Beijing to prevent tensions from spiraling out of control.

"The two officials discussed U.S.-PRC defense relations and regional and global security issues," the Pentagon said in a statement, referring to the People's Republic of China.

"Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC" following talks between the two sides in recent months, the statement said.

Austin also "reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows," and "underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea."

Beijing, in turn, said Dong had used the talks to call for greater "trust" between the two powers.

"China and the United States should... take peace as the most precious, stability as the most important," Dong told Austin, according to a Beijing readout.

"The military sphere is the key... to stabilizing the development of the relationship and preventing major crises from occurring," Dong said.

But he also warned the U.S. over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.

"Dong Jun emphasized that the Taiwan issue is the core of China...

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