Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin was silenced by Chinese officials
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has not spoken to China’s top military officials since taking office in January – despite the Pentagon’s best efforts, according to a new report.
“Military relations are strained, no question about it. It’s hard to know how much this reflects that burden, just as it is just Chinese intransigence, ”a US defense official told Reuters on Friday. “But we definitely want a dialogue. We just want to make sure that we are having a dialogue at the right level. “
A second official told Reuters that the Biden government couldn’t decide whether Austin should reach out to Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe or Beijing Central Military Commission deputy chairman Xu Qiliang. The latter is said to have more influence on Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Austin may have had the opportunity to speak to Wei during the scheduled Shangri-La Dialogue Asian Security Summit in Singapore next month, but the event has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Washington-Beijing relations are at rock bottom due to distrust of the origins of the pandemic, as well as Chinese saber rattling against Taiwan, Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea, and the treatment of Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang Province.
Earlier this week, China warned the US not to “cause trouble” after the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur crossed the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday and entered waters around the Paracel Archipelago, where Beijing claimed its territory Thursday.
In addition to building the world’s largest naval and coast guard by number of ships, China has increased its island holdings in the strategically important South China Sea and created new island outposts by stacking sand cement on coral reefs and covering them with runways and other infrastructure.
It has also ignored rival territorial claims from its smaller neighbors, including the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as an international arbitration award voiding most of China’s claims in the South China Sea.
In response, the U.S. Navy regularly implements what is known as freedom of navigation to exercise its right to sail in international waters.
A statement by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater on Thursday accused the US of increasing the risk of “misunderstandings, misjudgments and accidents at sea” and claimed the Wilbur’s maneuvers were “unprofessional and irresponsible”.
In an unusually lengthy and targeted response, the US Navy 7th Fleet called the Chinese claims “false” and added that Beijing is making its “excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.”
“The USS Curtis Wilbur was not” evicted “from any nation,” said the 7th Fleet. “The USS Curtis Wilbur conducted this FONOP (Freedom of Navigation Operation) in accordance with international law and then continued normal operations in international waters.”
With postal wires