Austin Speaks with Chinese Counterpart for First Time Since November 2022

‘During the discussion, Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication...,’ said Gen. Pat Ryder.
Austin Speaks with Chinese Counterpart for First Time Since November 2022
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talks to the media at the seventh gathering of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at Ramstein air base in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany, on March 19, 2024. (Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images)
Andrew Thornebrooke

The U.S. defense secretary spoke with his Chinese counterpart today for the first time since November 2022, the Pentagon announced.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held a video teleconference with China’s Minister of National Defense Dong Jun. The two discussed bilateral defense issues and global security dynamics, according to a Pentagon readout.

It was the first time Mr. Austin has talked to Adm. Dong and the first time the secretary has spoken at length with any Chinese counterpart since November 2022. The call, which lasted a bit more than an hour, comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China this month for talks.

Mr. Austin “emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication” between the two nations, the readout said.

“During the discussion, Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.

“The secretary made clear that it is important to respect the high seas freedom of navigation that is guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.”

Communications between China and the United States have plummeted in recent years, correlating to the precipitous cooling of relations between the two rivals.

The Department of Defense was most affected by the radio blackout, and American commanders were unable to conduct regional communications with their Chinese counterparts for more than a year following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022.

Some military-to-military communications were restored following a high-profile meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping in California in November, but Mr. Austin continued to be rebuffed from attempts to speak with his own counterpart.

However, communications between Mr. Austin and his counterpart were always rare and opaque. Mr. Austin spoke to Adm. Dong’s Predecessor, Wei Fenghe, for the first time in April of 2022, more than a year into his tenure as secretary of defense.
Mr. Wei refused all requests for communication following the United States’ decision to shoot down a CCP spy balloon that traversed the continental United States early in 2023.
That communications blackout also correlated to a campaign of intimidation against the United States and its allies by the CCP’s military wing, which aggressively intercepted more than 180 U.S. military aircraft over the course of two years, more than all the hostile intercepts during the previous decade combined.
Mr. Austin’s meeting with Mr. Dong also closely followed the release of a report by the House Select Committee on the CCP, which found that the CCP regime was directly subsidizing the creation and distribution of illegal opioids responsible for hundreds of thousands of American deaths. It is unclear what, if any, role the department will play in responding to the findings of that report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version said the virtual meeting was the first in two years. It was the first interaction since November 2022. The Epoch Times regrets the error. 
Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.