United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says he is committed to having a constructive relationship with China and working on common challenges, amid rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
Austin made the statement during a speech in Singapore on Tuesday, a day after Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng held talks in China’s northern city of Tianjin.
The second face-to-face meeting between US and Chinese diplomats since US President Joe Biden took office in January showed little in the way of progress, with no specific outcomes reached and both sides reiterating existing positions.
In Singapore, Austin appeared to seek to offer an opening to begin to ease tensions.
“We will not flinch when our interests are threatened. Yet we do not seek confrontation,” said the Pentagon chief.
“I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army,” he said.
The US has put countering China at the heart of its national security policy for years and the Biden administration has called rivalry with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
On Monday, after meeting Sherman, top Chinese diplomats accused Washington of creating an “imaginary enemy” in Beijing to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China’s development.
In an interview with The Associated Press news agency on Tuesday following the talks in Tianjin, Sherman said she had confronted the Chinese officials on what she called “the crimes against humanity” against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region, the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and alleged use of economic size to pressure smaller countries, as well as “aggressive actions” around Taiwan and in the South and East China Seas.
The US diplomat also downplayed expectations for progress following the meeting, adding: “There’s no way to know in the early stages of building this relationship whether we will get to all the places that we hoped for.”
New ambassador en route to the US
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported that China’s yet-to-be-announced new ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, was en route to Washington, DC.
Qin, 55, is set to replace Cui Tiankai, who at 68 has passed the retirement age for senior Chinese ambassadors, two sources familiar with the matter told the news agency.
Cui ended his eight years in Washington last month, making him China’s longest-serving ambassador to the US. Qin has no prior US-related experience, according to his biography on the foreign ministry website.
The post of the US ambassador to China has been vacant since Republican Terry Branstad stepped down to help with Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020.
Biden has plans to appoint former Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns to China, the New York Times reported in May.