WASHINGTON • Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe has warned his United States counterpart in a phone call to avoid firing up bilateral tensions, a day after Washington angered Beijing by announcing it would send a senior official to visit Taiwan.
General Wei told US Defence Secretary Mark Esper in a 90-minute phone call on Thursday to “stop erroneous words and deeds” and “avoid taking dangerous moves that may escalate the situation”, referring directly to Taiwan and the South China Sea, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
But Mr Esper told Gen Wei that China was undertaking destabilising activity, according to the Pentagon, showing no sign of backing down as the US rejects China’s claims of sovereignty in both areas.
“The secretary called for greater PRC transparency on Covid, expressed concerns about PRC destabilising activity in the vicinity of Taiwan in the South China Sea and called on the PRC to honour international obligations,” said Defence Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The call came as the US steps up a broad diplomatic campaign against Beijing, accusing it of everything from massive human rights violations to attempting to colonise the South China Sea region, to using technology like popular app TikTok to harvest the personal information of hundreds of millions of users worldwide.
On Wednesday, Beijing bristled in anger after Washington said it would send Health Secretary Alex Azar to Taiwan, where he will meet President Tsai Ing-wen and other officials.
Mr Azar will be the most senior US Cabinet member to visit Taiwan since 1979, which, owing to China’s territorial claim on the island, does not have official diplomatic relations with the US despite their close alliance.
Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory and bristles at any moves by other countries to recognise or communicate with Taipei.
Ms Tsai, though, called the visit “another testament to the strong Taiwan-US partnership”, a relationship underscored by extensive defence cooperation and US arms sales.
The long call came as Mr Esper said he hopes to visit China before the year end for talks on improving crisis communications, which are increasingly important as US naval forces regularly conduct operations near Taiwan and in the South China Sea, effectively challenging China’s territorial claims.
According to Mr Hoffman, Mr Esper underscored the need for a “constructive, stable and results-oriented defence relationship” between the two sides.
CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY
The secretary called for greater PRC transparency on Covid, expressed concerns about PRC destabilising activity in the vicinity of Taiwan in the South China Sea and called on the PRC to honour international obligations.
US DEFENCE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN JONATHAN HOFFMAN, on what Defence Secretary Mark Esper said to China.
In an essay published on the Chinese foreign ministry website yesterday, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi urged the military in both countries to engage more and make good use of confidence-building mechanisms.
“Military ties should become the stabilising factor for bilateral relations,” wrote Mr Yang.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS