November 23, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Prime Minister Hun Sen said he expected that the meeting between US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe in Siem Reap on November 22 would contribute to regional and global stability.
Austin and Wei met face to face on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM+).
After their meeting, Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder said the two had discussed US-China military relations and regional and global security issues. Austin emphasised the need to responsibly manage “competition” between their nations and maintaining open lines of communication.
The US general also discussed the importance of substantive dialogue on reducing strategic risk, improving crisis communications and enhancing operational safety, Ryder said.
“[Austin] raised concerns about the increasingly dangerous behaviour demonstrated by PLA aircraft in the Indo-Pacific region, which increases the risk of an accident,” he said, referring to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
“The secretary also affirmed that the US will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he added, making an oblique reference to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea where US naval vessels routinely perform “freedom of navigation” patrols despite China claiming those waters as their own.
Austin also brought up Russia’s “unprovoked war against Ukraine” and underscored the West’s opposition to the use of nuclear weapons or even threats.
North Korea has recently been staging provocative nuclear and missile tests and those were also discussed at the meeting, said Ryder.
He said Austin had expressed to Wei that the US remains committed to its longstanding adherence to the “One-China
Policy”, wherein Washington recognises Beijing as the legitimate government and refuses full diplomatic recognition for Taiwan.
However, the US policy is further complicated by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which, unlike the One-China Policy, has the force of law because it was passed by Congress. The act stipulates that the US must provide Taiwan with the arms it needs to defend itself from invasion as well as other assistance, despite it not being recognised officially as a nation.
“The secretary reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the [Taiwan] Strait. He underscored his opposition to unilateral changes to the status quo and called on [China] to refrain from further destabilising actions toward Taiwan,” Ryder said.
Tan Kefei, spokesman for China’s defence ministry, told local media BTV that both sides had agreed that the two militaries should implement the important consensus arrived at between the two heads of state at their recent meeting at the G20 Summit in Indonesia and keep the lines of communication open, handle disagreements appropriately, strengthen crisis management and maintain a stable military-to-military relationship.
Tan said both sides should adhere to the principle of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation to jointly ensure that China-US relations head in the right direction to avoid going astray and ending up in a collision.
“China is sincere in developing military-to-military as well as bilateral relations with the US; however, the basic prerequisite is that the US deliver on what’s being said and keep its promises and implement the consensus reached between the two heads of state,” he said, adding that Washington should also adopt “rational and practical” China policies so as to address the root causes of their being at odds.
Tan said Wei had stressed to Austin that the “One China” question regarding the status of Taiwan is “the most dangerous redline” possible and one that cannot be crossed by the US if it seeks to maintain good relations with China because Taiwan is a matter for the Chinese to resolve and no foreign interference could be tolerated.
He further said that any actions by the US on the matter of Taiwan, such as changing its diplomatic recognition, will be met with a firm response by the Chinese side.
“Minister Wei has reemphasised that the complete reunification of China must be realised and will be realised. The PLA has the back bone, courage, confidence and capability to firmly safeguard the territorial integrity of the motherland,” Tan said.
He added that the meeting had also touched on North Korea, the war in Ukraine and the South China Sea dispute, but noted that he regarded the meeting as a positive one with both sides committing to keep lines of communication open between the two militaries.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia was privileged to host such a high profile and consequential meeting.
“The land of Angkor has become a place for constructive dialogue. It is a good place to hold the meeting of defence ministers, which included ministers from Australia, Japan, South Korea and others,” he said at the closing ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of mine action in Cambodia, held in Phnom Penh on November 22.
Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the Kingdom has of late proven itself to be an important place for dialogues and forums, including contacts between the superpowers, and provides a venue where they can speak frankly and clear up any confusions about security matters.
“More often than not, the exchange of messages between Beijing and Washington is through the media in each country. So, this meeting [in Siem Reap] really was a good opportunity for both superpowers to discuss things face-to-face and bring their issues of concern to the table,” he said.
Seng Vanly, an expert in international relations, said the meeting may have enjoyed a cordial atmosphere, but neither side is likely to back down or surrender in their struggle over geopolitical power, which is the natural concern of ASEAN member states in terms of security, noting that both the US and China are also crucial trading partners with the bloc.
Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Asian Vision Institute, said the meeting between Austin and Wei may be regarded as a historic one sometime in the future depending on what path US-China relations travel down, and therefore also a historic occasion for Cambodia in relation