Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart for the first time since entering office more than 15 months ago, the Department of Defense announced Wednesday.
Austin held a call with Gen. Wei Fngheon, China’s minister of national defense Wednesday morning. Chinese military officials had previously rebuffed all of Austin’s request to meet or talk with Wei, an indicator of fractious relations with the country.
The DOD released a brief statement detailing the call, saying the conversation was a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s most recent call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“Secretary Austin and General Wei discussed U.S.-PRC defense relations, regional security issues, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the DOD statement read.
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A statement released by Beijing was more specific in parts, however, saying that Wei had told Austin directly that Taiwan is a part of China. The DOD did not immediately respond to a request to confirm that Wei had made the statement.
While China claiming Taiwan as a territory is not a change in position for the country, it does highlight the tension in relations between the U.S. and China as it relates to Taiwan.
The U.S. has long abided by the One China Policy, which formally acknowledges that mainland China is the official government of China, and acknowledges – but does not endorse – China’s claim to authority over Taiwan.
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Tensions over the issue flared last week when a bipartisan group of Congressmen traveled to Taiwan, representing one of the most high-level U.S. delegations to visit the country.
The group included Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Rob Portman of Ohio, Republican Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, and Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez.
“China firmly opposes any form of official interaction between the U.S. and China’s Taiwan region,” the spokesperson for the Chinese government tweeted the day the group arrived.
Fears that China may move to invade Taiwan have risen in recent years, thanks to China’s increasing aggression in the region, including frequent air force flights near Taiwan’s airspace.