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China says open to meeting with U.S. defence secretary


China said on Sunday it is open to a meeting with the U.S. defence secretary on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Cambodia this week, in a sign of thawing relations after the countries’ top leaders met earlier this month.

China Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin Lloyd previously confirmed separately that they would attend the forum with Southeast Asian countries, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus.

On Sunday, China’s defence ministry issued a statement featuring a question about whether the two would meet, with spokesman Tan Kefei quoted as saying, “China holds a proactive and open attitude for exchange with the United States.”

He also said both sides are coordinating regarding an “exchange” at the forum, set to take place on Wednesday.

A meeting would represent the first high-level military exchange between the countries since China halted regular dialogue between military commanders in August in retaliation for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

China regards democratically ruled Taiwan as a renegade province.

In Indonesia last week, on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit, China President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden held their first face-to-face meeting since the latter took office in early 2021.

Ties between the world’s two largest economies have deteriorated in recent years amid issues such as trade, human rights and Taiwan.

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China’s State Councilor and Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe speaks at a plenary session during the 19th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore June 12, 2022. REUTERS/Caroline Chia

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing after participating a virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo