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US, China Defense Ministers Meet in Latest Bid to Ease Strains

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(Bloomberg) — US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin began talks with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on Tuesday as the two countries tentatively resume contacts that were severed after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. 

Austin and Wei are meeting on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ defense ministers gathering in Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

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The meeting is latest effort to put the US-China relationship on a more stable footing following the first in-person talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden last week in Indonesia. While the two sides have not resolved deep differences over Taiwan, human rights, US restrictions on tech exports or other issues, they have sought to at least restore rudimentary links that would keep accidents or disagreements from spinning out of control.

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The US has watched with growing concern as China has built up its military into one of the world’s most powerful fighting forces. Last week, the US publicly acknowledged for the first time that China has fielded new, longer-range ballistic missiles on its six nuclear-powered submarines, allowing it to strike the continental US from much closer to its own shores.

Biden officials have repeatedly called for “guardrails” to prevent tensions between the world’s two largest economies from getting out of hand. In his encounter Saturday with Vice President Kamala Harris in Bangkok, Xi emphasized his view that more communication is needed. 

Austin arrived in Cambodia on Monday for the Asean defense ministers’ gathering. Wei and Austin last spoke in June in Singapore, when the bulk of the conversation focused on Taiwan. Wei condemned American moves to sell arms to the democratically-run island.

With tensions high, U.S. officials have warned that China has become more aggressive with “dangerous intercepts” against American military aircraft and ships, as well as those of Japan, Canada and Australia in the South China Sea region.


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