File picture: After the 30th Ottoman Conference in Washington on July 28, 2020, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper listened to a press conference held by the US State Department. Brendan Smialowski / Pool via REUTERS
The Pentagon said on Thursday that US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressed concern about Beijing’s “destabilizing” activities near Taiwan and the South China Sea during a call with Chinese Defense Secretary Wei Fenghe. Speaking since March.
This call comes at a time when Sino-US relations have deteriorated rapidly this year on a series of issues, including Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus, telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei [HWT.UL], China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its suppression of Hong Kong.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters: “Secretary-General Esper also conveyed the importance of China abiding by international laws, rules and regulations and fulfilling its international commitments,”
The Pentagon said in a separate statement that the two sides agreed to “develop the systems necessary for crisis communication and risk reduction.”
Esper has previously stated that he hopes to visit China before the end of this year to improve channels for “crisis communication” and address other areas of common interest.
The United States has long opposed China’s claims to expand its territory in the South China Sea and has regularly dispatched warships through strategic waterways.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said: “We… urge the US to stop its wrong words and deeds, improve the management and control of maritime risks, avoid dangerous actions that may escalate the situation, and maintain regional peace and stability.”
China threatened on Thursday to take countermeasures against US Secretary of Health and Public Affairs, Ask Azar’s trip to Taiwan, because the island country, as the Chinese calls it, is preparing for the highest-level official visit to the United States in 40 years.
In June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Hawaii, but senior US officials said that China would not participate in these talks.
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler