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US Defense Secretary set to meet Chinese counterpart for first time during trip to Indo-Pacific

The date and time for the meeting between Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe have not been set yet, the official said, but Austin is scheduled to speak at the Shangri-La Dialogue on Saturday, June 11, one day before Wei speaks.

The two have only spoken on the phone once. On April 20, Austin and Wei spoke for about 45 minutes, marking the first time a US Defense Secretary had spoken to his Chinese counterpart since the Trump administration more than a year earlier.

But the Pentagon provided few details of the conversation.

“It was a good first conversation,” another senior defense official said at the time. “There was a range of issues discussed. Clearly, security issues in the Indo-Pacific were brought up. I think I’m going to just leave it at that for now.”

Austin has repeatedly described China as the “pacing challenge” for the Defense Department and said that the Indo-Pacific region is the priority for the United States, even with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. In Austin’s speech and throughout his meetings at the conference, the official said Austin is expected to stress the importance of the region in future US planning, as well as the emphasis on working with US allies and partners to ensure the region remains open and free.

“Indo-Pacific nations have made clear that they seek a region that’s rooted in transparency, in freedom of navigation, in peaceful resolution of disputes, in respect for sovereignty and the territorial integrity of sovereign states,” said the official. “At the same time, we have also seen what an assault on these shared principles looks like, from the [People’s Republic of China’s] harassment in the South China Sea to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, and we’re actively working to build a more transparent and inclusive security order for the region.”

The already tense relationship between Washington and Beijing boiled over earlier this week when a US congressional delegation visited Taiwan. The delegation, led by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, met with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who said she looks forward to a “deeper and closer” relationship with the United States.

In response, the Chinese embassy in Washington lodged a “stern representation” with the US, according to a statement, urging it to “avoid sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.”

On Monday, China also sent 30 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, the highest daily figure in four months.

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