Tue. May 21st, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

April 20, 2022

It is important for the US Defense Chief speaking with his Chinese counterpart. From US DoD’s official readout, see attached, there is no specific content: “U.S.-PRC defense relations, regional security issues, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” But US media provided more details.

  1. It is the first conversation for Austin and Wei. A major hang up was the protocol, where China viewed as “Austin, in an unprofessional and unfriendly act of disregarding diplomatic protocol and international common practice, requested to meet with Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.”
  2. The report said that the call last 45 minutes. If we take out the translation time, there was about 20 minutes left so each side had about 10 minutes. With all the many outstanding issues between the US and China, each man probably had sufficient time to make or repeat each nation’s “bottom lines.” Of course, US and China have different priorities and they do not line up nicely.
  3. The only new issue is the Ukraine war, where the US is requesting that China openly condemns Russia. China, on the other hand, has no intension or reason to oblige. US has maintained that China is the most serious threat to US, yet the Ukraine war pits Biden against Putin and draining strategic resources of both the US and Russia, the longer the war the better for China.
  4. How long the Ukraine war will last? Only Biden knows.


Readout of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Call with the People’s Republic of China Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe

APRIL 20, 2022

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby provided the following readout:

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke today with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe as a follow-up to the recent call between President Biden and Xi Jinping. Secretary Austin and General Wei discussed U.S.-PRC defense relations, regional security issues, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Defense minister stresses China’s resolve, warns against US provocations in ‘late’ first phone talk with Austin

By  Liu Xuanzun Published: Apr 20, 2022 08:44 PM

Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe had a phone call with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday at the latter’s request, with Wei stressing the importance of the Taiwan question, while demanding the US to stop its military provocations at sea, and not to throw mud or threaten China with the Ukraine issue. 

The dialogue, the first since Austin became US Defense Secretary in January 2021, will hopefully provide stability to the two countries’ military-to-military ties and avoid and reduce misjudgments by letting the US better understand China’s bottom line and core interests at a very challenging time in the China-US relations, analysts said.

Wei said that China and the US should implement the consensus reached by the two countries’ top leaders in earnest, pledge mutual respect, coexist peacefully and avoid confrontation. The US should fulfill its promise of not seeking a new Cold War with China, should not aim to change China’s system, the revitalization of its alliances should not target China, that the US does not support “Taiwan independence,” and that it has no intention to seek a conflict with China.

China hopes to build a sound and steady major power relationship with the US, and it will also safeguard its national interests and dignity. The US should not underestimate China’s determination and capability, Wei said.

The two countries’ militaries should enhance mutual trust, boost conversation and communication, manage and control risks and crises, and carry out pragmatic cooperation to ensure the normal, steady development of the two countries’ military-to-military relations, Wei said.

Wei stated a solemn position over the Taiwan question, as he stressed that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and this is a fact and a status quo no one can change.

It will bring a disruptive impact on China-US relations if the Taiwan question is not handled well, and the Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, Wei said.

Austin said that the US is willing to promote the implementation of the important consensus reached by the two countries’ top leaders, and it will enhance exchanges and cooperation in the military field with a sincere and open attitude.

The US stays committed to the one-China policy, Austin said.

Both sides should manage and control competition and risks with responsible manners, and deal well with challenges that the military ties between the two countries are facing, the US defense secretary said.

The biggest significance of the dialogue between two countries’ defense ministers is that China and the US could avoid and reduce misjudgments by better understanding each other’s bottom lines and not challenge each other’s core interests, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

China does not seek hegemony but it will not allow the US to challenge its red lines in terms of core interests, Song said.

Hopefully, the talk can provide stability for the two countries’ military-to-military ties and a resumption of high-level military communications, Song said.

The defense ministers’ talk came after a video call between the two countries’ top leaders in March, which was deemed constructive, and teams from both countries were directed to promptly follow up and take concrete actions to put China-US relations back on the track of steady development, the Xinhua News Agency reported at the time.

China-US relations have been in a very difficult time, with all kinds of challenges stacked together, but the two countries’ leaderships know they have wide and deep common interests, and those cannot be ignored because of the challenges, a Chinese expert on foreign affairs told the Global Times on Wednesday, requesting anonymity.

Wei and Austin’s phone call is a chance to enable the two militaries to better understand each other’s strategic intent and enhance the management of tensions in places like the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits, the expert said.

China warned the US that is should not go further on the Taiwan question, not to mention supporting “Taiwan independence” forces, as this is a major question of principle that involves national sovereignty, security and development interests, Song said. China must make clear its bottom line to the US in order to safeguard peace and stability, and the Chinese mainland has the legal basis, the capability and the determination to resolve the Taiwan question, including by force, he said.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command on Friday organized multi-services and arms, dispatching forces including destroyers, frigates, bombers and fighters, and conducted joint combat alert patrols and drills including a maritime assault, in the forefront of the East China Sea and in waters and aerial areas around the island of Taiwan, when a group of US lawmakers were visiting the island.

A total of 11 PLA aircraft, namely a Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft, two H-6 bombers, a KJ-500 early warning aircraft and seven J-16 fighter jets, entered the island of Taiwan’s self-proclaimed southwestern air defense identification zone on Wednesday, Taiwan’s defense authority said on the day.

Wei and Austin exchanged views over air and maritime safety issues, with China demanding the US to stop making military provocations from the sea.

China and the US have already established mechanisms for the safety of air and maritime encounters, but the US military has been increasing close-in reconnaissance operations on China with aircraft and vessels, Song said.

In 2021, US large spy planes carried out about 1,200 aerial close-in reconnaissance sorties on China, with US aircraft carrier strike groups, amphibious ready groups and nuclear-powered attack submarines repeatedly entering the South China Sea, according to the monitoring by the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, a Beijing-based think tank.

This increases the risk of an accident and could lead to serious consequences, and the US must stop making such provocations, or the Chinese military would have to deal with them, experts said.

The two defense ministers also discussed the situation in Ukraine, and China urged the US not to use the Ukraine issue to throw mud at, threaten and pressure China.

First conversation

This is the first time Wei and Austin have had a direct conversation since Austin became Pentagon chief, observers noted.

In May 2021, Western media reported that Austin had yet to talk to Chinese military leaders “despite repeated attempts,” but that was because Austin, in an unprofessional and unfriendly act of disregarding diplomatic protocol and international common practice, requested to meet with Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, instead of Wei, sources told the Global Times at the time.

This time, it was also the US side that proposed the call, but with the right person, observers pointed out.

A reason why the US requested the call is probably because the US acknowledges China as its greatest strategic competitor, but in the meantime the risk of a real conflict must be avoided, analysts said.

Another reason is that the US might want China’s help with the Ukraine crisis, and put pressure on China over its ties with Russia amid the Ukraine crisis, but its attempt to sow discord between China and Russia is bound to be futile, Song said.

China-US relations, as the most important relations in the world, have big influence potentials on the Russia-Ukraine issue, Song pointed out, noting that the US is fanning the flames and stirring up troubles at the cost of the Russians, Ukrainians and Europeans to serve its own hegemonic interests, and China on the other hand is promoting talks and peace.

The anonymous foreign affairs expert said that the US might be worried whether China could have some sorts of military coordination and cooperation with Russia. 

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly said that it is disinformation from the US that Russia has asked China for military assistance, and China’s position on the Ukraine issue is consistent and clear, as China has been playing a constructive part in promoting peace talks.

China’s defense chief has warned the United States against its intensifying focus on Taiwan.

Wei also said if the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, it will have a damaging impact on China-US relations.

The remarks come as a group of US congressional lawmakers visited Taiwan last week and met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
The Chinese military has responded by conducting military patrols in the area around Taiwan.

The US Defense Department on Wednesday also released a readout, which says Austin and Wei discussed US-China defense relations, regional security issues and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration has warned that China will pay a price should it support Russia.

Wei reportedly said that the US should not “throw mud” or threaten China with the Ukraine issue.

Pentagon chief speaks with China’s defense minister for first time under Biden

Wed, April 20, 2022, 6:32 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe on Wednesday, the first call between the two officials since the start of President Joe Biden’s administration more than a year ago.

Relations between China and the United States have been tense, with the world’s two largest economies clashing over everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military activity in the South China Sea.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the two talked about relations between the countries and “regional security issues, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

Despite the tensions and heated rhetoric, U.S. military officials have long sought to have open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts to be able to mitigate potential flare-ups or deal with any accidents.

Austin, despite multiple attempts, had been unable to talk with Chinese military leaders until Wednesday.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition anonymity, said the call, which lasted about 45 minutes, did not have any major breakthroughs but Austin reiterated the importance of Beijing not arming Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

A statement from Beijing said that Wei told Austin that Taiwan was a part of China and no one could change that.

“If the Taiwan issue were not handled properly, it would have a damaging impact on Sino-U.S. relations,” Wei added, according to statement published by the defense ministry.

The United States has no formal relations with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, but is its most important international backer and arms supplier.

Taiwan has been heartened by the U.S. support offered by the Biden administration, which has repeatedly talked of its “rock-solid” commitment to the democratically governed island.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also put Taipei on alert for any possible moves by Beijing to use the Ukraine crisis to make a move on the island. The government though has reported no sign that China is about to invade.

Robert Burns

Wed, April 20, 2022, 6:20 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday spoke with his Chinese counterpart for the first time since becoming Pentagon chief more than a year ago, breaking a communications impasse that American officials saw as increasingly dangerous amid concern that Beijing might provide military support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Austin, who calls China the U.S. military’s leading long-term challenge but has been forced to focus heavily on Russia this year, requested the telephone conversation with Gen. Wei Fenge after months of failed effort to speak with Gen. Xu Qiliang, the highest ranking uniformed officer in the Communist Party military structure.

Austin wanted to talk to Xu because, as deputy chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army, Xu is more influential than Wei. But Beijing insisted on sticking to protocol and having Austin talk to Wei, who officially is his counterpart as defense minister but ranks below Xu in the hierarchy and has less military operational clout.

Austin’s predecessors had typically spoken with Wei, mostly recently on Aug. 6, 2020 when then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised with him a U.S. request for greater transparency on the origins of Covid-19 and other issues.

Austin had no expectation of a major breakthrough on key issues with Wei when he made the call on a secure telephone link that was established by the Pentagon and China’s Ministry of National Defense in 2008, according to a senior defense official who was involved in the arrangement and spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the call, which has not been publicly announced.

Austin intended the call, which lasted about 45 minutes, as a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s video call with President Xi Jinping on March 18 in which he laid out stiff consequences the Chinese would face if they provided military or economic assistance for Russia’s war in Ukraine. The White House gave no indication that Biden received any assurances from the Chinese leader, and it was not immediately clear how Wei responded Wednesday.

For years Washington has portrayed China as seeking to reshape the international order to better assert its national interests and to build enough military strength to eventually supplant the United States as the dominant power in Asia.

The U.S.-China relationship has become more strained on multiple levels since the start of Biden’s presidency. Biden has repeatedly criticized China for military provocations against Taiwan, human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and efforts to squelch pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. U.S. officials also have expressed concern about signs that China is vastly increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal, although it remains fall smaller than America’s.

In Wednesday’s phone call, Austin echoed Biden’s messages on the importance of managing U.S.-Chinese strategic competition, including in the nuclear, space and cyber arenas, and improving crisis communications between the global powers, the senior defense official said.

Austin also raised U.S. concerns about what Washington views as Chinese military provocations against Taiwan, the island democracy that Beijing has insisted must ultimately be united with the Chinese mainland, the official said. He also expressed U.S. concerns about Chinese activities in the South China Sea and East China Sea and raised U.S. worries about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The long-strained U.S.-China relationship may have reached a new low with the Russian invasion. At times, Beijing has sought to distance itself from the conflict but avoided directly criticizing Moscow. At other moments, Beijing’s actions have been provocative, including amplifying unverified Russian claims that Ukraine ran chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support.

American officials have expressed concern at the prospect of an Moscow-Beijing alliance of authoritarian states. In February, Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that the friendship between their counties “has no limits,” although it remains to be seen whether the subsequent Russian invasion of Ukraine has cooled Xi’s interest in closer ties.

The Biden administration’s first high-level meeting with Chinese officials came in March 2021 when Secretary of State Anton Blinken and Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met in Anchorage, Alaska, with their Chinese counterparts, who surprised their American hosts by complaining about a litany of issues.

Since then, there have been a succession of phone and video calls between Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi but relatively few in-person meetings. Those calls have been dominated largely by issues of the day ranging from the situation in Afghanistan, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea and Iran. Blinken has yet to visit China and the most senior U.S. diplomat to travel to the country has been Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

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