Austin expresses concerns over N.K. provocations in video talks with Chinese counterpart

WASHINGTON, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin voiced concerns Tuesday over North Korea's recent provocations during video talks with his Chinese counterpart, the first conversation between the two countries' defense chiefs in about 17 months, the Pentagon said. Austin and China's Defense Minister Dong Jun held the talks as tensions persist on the Korean Peninsula with Pyongyang doubling down on its weapons tests, including its launch this month of an intermediate-range ballistic missile tipped with a hypersonic warhead. "(Austin) expressed concerns about recent provocations from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)," Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a readout, referring to North Korea by its official name. During the call, the two sides discussed a range of regional and global issues, including the South China Sea and Russia's war against Ukraine. "The secretary also reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate -- safely and responsibly -- wh erever international law allows," Ryder said. "Secretary Austin underscored the importance of respect for high seas freedom of navigation guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea," he added. Austin reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, while noting that the U.S. remains committed to its longstanding one China policy. The Taiwan issue has been a source of tension between Washington and Beijing as China hopes for reunification with the self-governing island democracy with the U.S. opposing any unilateral change to the status quo by either side. The defense chiefs of the two countries last held talks on the margins of a regional defense forum in Cambodia in November 2022. During a summit in California in November, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to restore bilateral military-to-military communication. Military communications between the two sides were suspended after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit t o Taiwan in August 2022. "Secretary Austin emphasized the importance of continuing to open lines of military-to-military communication between the United States and the PRC," Ryder said, referring to China by its official name, the People's Republic of China. Ryder added that the Pentagon will continue to engage in active discussions with Chinese counterparts about future engagements between defense and military officials at multiple levels. Source: Yonhap News Agency