US Defense Secretary Austin said that China’s meeting was unfortunate

TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that it was „unfortunate” that China’s prime minister had refused to meet with him at an upcoming defense forum because of the need to contact him to stop dangerous encounters between military aircraft.

On Tuesday, the United States said a Chinese warplane conducted „unnecessary aggressive” maneuvers near a US aircraft over the South China Sea.

„I think that’s unfortunate,” Austin told a news conference in Tokyo, referring to Chinese National Security Minister Li Shangfu’s decision not to meet with him at a conference they are both expected to attend this weekend in Singapore.

„I welcome any opportunity to engage with Li. I think the defense departments should talk to each other on a regular basis or have open channels of communication.”

Austin stopped in Tokyo on his way to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue Asia Security Summit, which begins in Singapore on Friday.

Speaking after a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, Austin expressed concern that sometimes an incident like Tuesday’s between the U.S. and Chinese aircraft „could spiral out of control very quickly.”

„The provocative interception of our aircraft and the aircraft of our allies is very worrying and we hope they will change their actions,” he said.

Li is expected to meet Hamada at the Singapore conference.

Japan and China established a „hotline” in March to improve communications and ease military friction.

Li has been subject to US sanctions since 2018 for purchasing warplanes and equipment from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms exporter.

At the meeting in Tokyo, Austin and Hamada said Wednesday they discussed North Korea’s rocket launch, tensions with China and Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

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„North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing nuclear and missile programs pose a threat to peace and stability in the region,” Austin said.

The launch, which North Korea said was an attempt to put a military satellite into orbit, prompted emergency warnings in parts of Japan and South Korea, with residents urged to take precautions.

„We are deeply concerned by the coercive nature of the PRC and its efforts to undermine the rules-based order. Meanwhile Russia continues its brutal unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine,” Austin added, referring to China by its official initials.

Hamada said the two affirmed their intention to deepen security cooperation, including in their military industries, and work more closely with South Korea, Australia and other countries in tackling North Korea and other threats.

„Given the complex security environment, we affirmed the importance of cooperation not only between Japan and the United States, but also with the Republic of Korea, Australia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries,” Hamada told a press conference.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly and Mariko Katsumura; Editing by Tom Hoke and Jerry Doyle)

By Tim Kelly

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