Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed the need to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage competition during his meeting with China’s Minister of National Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe this week.
Austin met with Wei on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus (ADMM-Plus) Defense Ministers Meeting in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Both defense chiefs last met in June in Singapore during the Shangri-La dialogue.
Austin and Wei discussed US-China defense relations and regional and global security issues, and Austin emphasized the need to responsibly manage competition, according to a Pentagon broadcast about the meeting.
The US defense chief also highlighted the importance of substantive dialogue to reduce strategic risk, improve crisis communications and increase operational security. He raised concerns about the increasingly dangerous behavior of PLA aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region, which the ad said increases the risk of accidents. The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, Austin said.
During the meeting, Austin spoke about Russia’s war against Ukraine and expressed concern about recent provocations by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). He called on the PRC to fully enforce existing UN Security Council resolutions regarding the DPRK’s illicit arms programs.
The US defense chief told Wei that the United States remains committed to the long-standing one-China policy guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three US-China joint communiqués and the six pledges. Speaking on the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, Austin underscored his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo and urged the PRC to refrain from further destabilizing measures towards Taiwan, the press release said.
The Chinese Defense Ministry also issued a press release on the meeting, saying Wei stressed that the Taiwan issue is at the heart of China’s core interests and is the first red line not to be crossed in China-US relations may.
“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan. The resolution of the Taiwan issue is the Chinese people’s own business, and no outside force has the right to interfere. The Chinese armed forces have the backbone, determination, confidence and capability to resolutely secure national reunification,” the press release said.
During the talks, both sides agreed that the two militaries should implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, maintain communication and contact, strengthen crisis management and control, and strive to maintain regional security and stability, the statement said the press release. The two sides also exchanged views on international and regional situations, the Ukraine crisis, the South China Sea and Korean Peninsula problems.
The ADMM-Plus is a platform for ASEAN and its eight dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States (collectively referred to as the “Plus Countries”) to strengthen security and defense cooperation for peace, stability and development in the region with the main meeting between the countries’ defense chiefs taking place on Wednesday. Cambodia, as the current Chairman of ASEAN, is hosting the event.
While the defense secretary met with his Chinese counterpart, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines, where she reaffirmed US commitment to the country.
Harris told Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during her opening address Monday that the US stands with the Philippines to defend international rules and norms regarding the South China Sea.
An armed attack on Philippine forces, public ships or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense obligations, “and that is an unwavering obligation that we have to the Philippines,” Harris said, echoing similar remarks by Secretary of State State Anthony Flashing in July this year.
On Tuesday, the vice president visited the Philippine island of Palawan, some 200 miles from the disputed Spratly Islands claimed by Brunei, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. With the exception of Brunei, all of the applicants maintained military bases on their claims in the region, with China expanding the capacity of its military bases there in recent years. Harris held discussions with the fishing community, local officials and the Philippine Coast Guard in Palawan.
In a speech aboard the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol vessel BRP. Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701), the vice president reiterated US commitment to the Philippines, saying the US stands as an ally with the Philippines in the face of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea.
“We must uphold principles such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, unhindered legitimate trade, peaceful settlement of disputes, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and throughout the Indo-Pacific,” Harris said.
The vice president also stated that the United States supported the 2016 ruling by the United Nations tribunal that “strongly rejected China’s sweeping claims at sea in the South China Sea,” adding that the tribunal’s decision is binding and must be respected. The United States will continue to rally its allies and partners against unlawful and irresponsible behavior and that if the order based on international rules is threatened anywhere, it will be threatened everywhere, Harris said.
The United States will provide new assets to the Philippine maritime law authorities that will allow them to combat IIU fishing, upgrade their capabilities and enhance their surveillance systems, Harris said.
Initiatives included providing $7.5 million in additional support to improve the Philippine Maritime Law Enforcement Agency’s capabilities and that the U.S. Department of Commerce and Development will assist the Philippine Coast Guard in modernizing and expanding its Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS ) to enable improved maritime security and environmental monitoring, according to a White House release.
On Sunday, the White House issued a press release about the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (ECDA) sites that had been identified to allow the United States and the Philippines to continue working together to achieve agreed goals under the EDCA .
Currently, five EDCA locations have already been agreed, namely Cesar Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Luzon; Lumbia Airfield in Mindanao; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Lieutenant General Bartolome Vicente Bacarro said in an interview with Philippine news channel GMA Network on Nov. 14 that AFP has identified five locations for the additional EDCA facilities, two in Cagayan and one in each Palawan, Zambales and Isabela.