WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Chinese delegation met with a senior U.S. military official during a conference earlier this month, the Pentagon said on Thursday, a move that could signal a potential thawing in military relations between the two countries.
With U.S.-China relations at a low over national security issues, including Taiwan, U.S. export bans on advanced technologies and China’s state-led industrial policies, Washington has been trying to repair ties between the world’s two biggest economies.
But Beijing has repeatedly snubbed U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s efforts to hold an in-depth meeting with his Chinese counterpart and military communications had generally stalled.
The head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquilino, met with Chinese military officials at the conference held in Fiji earlier this month, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.
Senior military leaders from 27 countries attended the conference co-hosted by the United States and Fiji.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can do on our part, to maintain open lines of communication to reduce the potential for miscalculation,” Ryder said at a press conference.
Ryder said he hoped this was a sign of more dialogues in the future.
China has publicly cited U.S. sanctions as an obstacle to military dialogue. Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu has been sanctioned since 2018 over the purchase of combat aircraft and equipment from Russia’s main arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.
China’s Ministry of Defence said earlier on Thursday that military-to-military communication between Beijing and Washington has “not stopped.”
“I want to clarify that China-U.S. military-to-military communication is not stopped,” said defence ministry spokesperson Wu Qian at a weekly briefing in Beijing, adding that there remain “many difficulties and obstacles” in the relationship.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler)