By Idrees Ali
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and acting U.S. Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan held talks on Friday at an Asia security summit in Singapore, a meeting the Pentagon said was “constructive and productive,” amid heightened tensions between the two countries over trade and security.
The meeting comes even as Shanahan told reporters on Friday that Chinese militarization of the South China was “excessive” and that he would be calling out such Chinese actions in a speech on Saturday.
The United States and China, locked in an escalating trade war, are also at odds over a series of strategic issues, from the disputed South China Sea to democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed.
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, a Pentagon spokesman, said Shanahan found their 20-minute meeting to be “constructive and productive”.
“The two leaders discussed ways to build military-to-military relations that reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between our nations,” Buccino said.
He added that Shanahan discussed how the two militaries could better cooperate to enforce North Korea sanctions.
“Secretary Shanahan hopes to build on this evening’s discussion with future engagements,” Buccino said.
Prior to the meeting, Shanahan stuck an optimistic tone and told reporters that the relationship between the two militaries had “a lot of potential”.
He said he had several proposals to improve relations with Beijing that he would discuss with Wei.
Before his meeting with Wei, Shanahan – who on his first day in his role in January said the U.S. military would focus on “China, China, China” – said he would use a speech on Saturday to call out China specifically.
“This part might be viewed as spicy kind of call out good behaviours, bad behaviours and there’s parts of this where I think it’s appropriate not to ignore,” Shanahan said, adding that China’s military actions in the South China Sea had been excessive.
“They argue that it is defensive, it looks like it’s a bit overkill, surface to air missiles, long runways… it seems excessive,” Shanahan said.
China and the United States have repeatedly traded barbs over what Washington says is Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.
China claims almost all of the strategic waterway and blames the United States and its allies for escalating tensions by carrying out naval operations in the region.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Joe Brock.; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)