Austin warns of Beijing’s ‘dangerous behavior’ in meeting with China’s defense chief

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met on the sidelines in Cambodia with China’s defense minister on Tuesday to discuss global security tensions and to urge his counterpart in Beijing to keep an open line of communication.

The two discussed conflicts relating to Taiwan, North Korea, the potential use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine and Chinese aircraft flyovers in the Indo-Pacific, according to a readout provided by the Defense Department.

Austin’s meeting with Gen. Wei Fenghe, China’s minister of national defense, was the second face-to-face meeting the two have had in the past six months.

It comes after President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month at the G-20 conference, where the two emphasized there would not be a new Cold War amid economic competition and geopolitical tensions.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Senior Col. Tan Kefei said at a news conference that the meeting between Austin and Wei on Tuesday served “as a concrete measure to implement the important consensus reached between Xi and Biden.”

Both Wei and Austin were in Seim Reap, Cambodia, for a meeting of defense ministers hosted by the Association of Southeast Asia Nations.

Austin and Wei agreed that the U.S. government and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) oppose the use of nuclear weapons in war, comments that come amid rising concerns about Russia potentially preparing to use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned he might deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine amid heavy setbacks for the Russian army, although Russia has since distanced itself from those threats.

Austin also met with Cambodian Minister of Defense Tea Banh on Tuesday and expressed his support for the Asian nation’s opposition to Russia illegally annexing four regions in Ukraine.

In the meeting with Wei, the U.S. Defense secretary also pushed China to fully enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions against North Korea.

North Korea has test-fired a record number of missiles this year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). One ICBM the nation fired last week had the range to strike the U.S.

On the issue of Taiwan, Austin made clear the U.S. is committed to the Taiwan Relations Act, which acknowledges the self-governing island is part of China but commits to unofficial relations with Taiwan.

According to the readout, in his meeting with Wei, Austin “underscored his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo and called on the PRC to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan.”

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan in August despite warnings from Beijing, which held large military drills after her visit to the island.

Biden also discussed the Taiwan question with Xi earlier this month and said there was not an imminent threat of a Chinese invasion of the island. But Xi reportedly told the U.S. president that Taiwan was the “first red line” that must not be crossed.

Austin on Tuesday also emphasized his concerns about Chinese military aircraft flyovers in the Indo-Pacific and affirmed the U.S. will continue to operate in the region.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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