SINGAPORE – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has met his Chinese counterpart for the first time on the eve of a major Asian security forum in Singapore, with both sides agreeing to maintain lines of dialogue in the future.

Austin met Gen. Wei Fenghe in Singapore as defense ministers from the region and around the world gathered for the Shangri-La Dialogue, organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The forum, which usually takes place annually, is making its return after a hiatus of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting lasted 55 minutes, substantially longer than originally scheduled. Wei described the meeting as “candid” to reporters.

A readout of the meeting issued by the Pentagon said Austin also discussed the need to responsibly manage competition and maintain open lines of communication.

They also discussed global and regional security issues, including North Korea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A Chinese defense spokesman said after the meeting that China denied providing aid to Russia, Reuters reported.

Taiwan was also key topic of the meeting, with Austin reiterating to Wei that the U.S. remains committed to its longstanding “One China” policy guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the so-called three U.S.-China joint communiques and the Six Assurances policy. It’s official U.S. policy to recognize Beijing as representing China and to acknowledge its view that it has sovereignty over Taiwan, although Washington also considers Taiwan’s status as unsettled.

Austin also reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as well as his government’s opposition to unilateral actions meant to change the status quo, according to the Pentagon readout. He also called on the Chinese government to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan, the readout said.

The Chinese Global Times media outlet said Wei told Austin during the meeting that China’s military will not hesitate to crush any attempt at Taiwanese independence, in order to defend national unity, and he again condemned U.S. arms sales to the self-ruling island, which China considers a rogue province.

On Ukraine, the Global Times reported Wei said at the meeting that China always upholds the principle of objectiveness and fairness concerning the issue and is actively making efforts to promote peace and talks.

He added that China would take “resolute countermeasures” if external parties sought to use the conflict in Ukraine to harm Beijing’s interests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.

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