When he travels to Singapore for Asia’s largest defense summit this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to meet Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe for the first time.
The Pentagon confirmed to Newsweek that it received a formal request from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to meet during the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, which begins on Friday and extends into the weekend. A senior defense official told the news outlet that the time and location of the meeting were still being worked out.
“But I don’t have any more details at this time except to say we expect, from our perspective, the substance of that meeting to be focused on managing competition and regional and global issues,” the official said through the Defense Department’s website on Monday.
Both Austin and Wei are scheduled to speak at the summit on their countries’ defense policy in the region, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, according to Newsweek.
In December, Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told Congress the Biden administration’s aim was to reopen lines of communication with the PLA after former President Donald Trump left the relationship strained when he left office.
The efforts have reportedly been generally successful. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met most recently in March, while national security advisers Jake Sullivan and Yang Jiechi talked last month.
After initial disagreements over who was considered Austin’s counterpart in Beijing, the defense secretary had his first call with Wei on April 20, according to Newsweek.
Whenever Chinese and American officials meet, Taiwan is a point of contention. According to Newsweek, Beijing’s representatives will be seeking clarity from Austin’s delegation when they meet this weekend, after Biden said at a press conference in Tokyo last month that the U.S. military would be involved if China were to invade Taiwan.
When the two spoke in April, Wei reportedly told Austin, “If the Taiwan question is not handled properly, it will have a subversive effect on the China-U.S. relations. The Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”
The possible repercussions of China’s newly signed police and security agreement with the Solomon Islands is also likely to be on Austin and Wei’s agenda, as the pact has caused some anxiety in Washington, but also in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said in April that the U.S. would respond if the Solomon Islands permitted China to “establish a de facto permanent military presence, power projection capabilities, or a military installation.” in its territory.
Now more than 100 days into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Washington and Beijing couldn’t have more different views on the conflict, which experts say is threatening to cause a global food crisis.
Newsweek reports that Austin will likely remind Wei of the potential consequences of helping Russia dodge Western sanctions. He is guaranteed to push for Beijing to condemn the Kremlin’s invasion, though that outcome is doubtful.