In Singapore, Americans and Chinese renew military dialogue despite a degraded context

After more than a year of estrangement, the meeting was eagerly awaited. The highest American and Chinese military officials, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and his new Chinese counterpart, Admiral Dong Jun, appointed Minister of Defense in December 2023, renewed dialogue on Friday, May 31, at the occasion of the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore. This forum, which runs until June 2, brings together the military and security authorities of the Indo-Pacific region each year. It traditionally serves as a barometer of tensions between Chinese and Americans.

The meeting between Mr. Austin and Admiral Dong Jun took place for a little over an hour, on the sidelines of the forum. According to the spokesperson for the Chinese defense minister, the two men held discussions “positive, practical and constructive”. According to a Pentagon statement, Mr. Austin took the opportunity to remind Beijing that Taiwan’s political transition should not “serve as a pretext for coercive measures”but he validated the resumption of military telephone communications in due form, ” in the coming months “.

The military dialogue between China and the United States had been broken since August 2022, after the visit to Taiwan by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, then the highest American official to visit the island in twenty-five years. This visit had greatly irritated Beijing – which considers Taiwan to be part of its territory – and China had cut off military communications with the United States. In March 2023, Beijing then appointed a defense minister – since ousted for ” corruption “ –, Li Shangfu, who was under American sanctions and, as such, refused any contact with Mr. Austin. The denunciation by Washington, in February 2023, of a Chinese espionage program, using balloons placed at high altitude, had further increased tensions between the two countries.

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This meeting between Mr. Austin and Admiral Dong Jun finalizes a rapprochement of Sino-American military channels which began discreetly in January, following the meeting between American President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, in San Francisco, in November 2023. The two leaders intended to avoid any slippage that could have resulted from the numerous tensions agitating the region, in particular in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

Simulation of a blockade of Taiwan

In January, a delegation of Chinese soldiers visited the Pentagon, for the first time since 2020. Exchanges between American and Chinese soldiers also took place, for two days, in April, in Hawaii, on security issues. sea ​​and air.

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