Chinese Military Commander Confronts Esper About America's "Dangerous Moves"

Attempting to cool or at least find a way forward through soaring tensions Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe for over an hour and a half on Thursday in a tense phone call.

Focused on avoiding conflict in the South China Sea and Taiwan — the latter now expecting "the highest-level visit by a U.S. cabinet official" to Taipei in forty years, namely led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — it's the first time the two have talked since March.

China's Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe, via the Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

"Secretary Esper called for greater PRC [People's Republic of China] transparency on COVID, expressed concern about PRC destabilizing activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and called on the PRC to honor international obligations under the principles of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration," a Pentagon press news release said of the talks.

"Secretary Esper communicated the importance that the PRC abide by international laws, rules, and norms, and meet its international commitments."

Further they discussed the following variety of subjects around which the two sides have lately seen tensions:

  • Esper urged that China “abide by international laws, rules, and norms” in the South China Sea.
  • China's expansionist claims over the South China Sea were addressed... Esper emphasized the US backs all regional countries whose claims conflict with China's.
  • The two agreed on a crisis deescalation military hotline.
  • Esper further "expressed concerns about [the Chinese military’s] destabilizing activity in the vicinity of Taiwan and the South China Sea, and called on [China] to honor international obligations," according to the Pentagon read-out.
  • Wei warned Esper against “dangerous moves” that would prove to only escalate bilateral tensions.
  • Wei also urged the US to stop the “stigmatization” of China.
  • He urged the US to “stop erroneous acts and rhetoric”.

Wei specifically “expressed China’s principled position on the South China Sea, Taiwan, and the US's ‘stigmatisation’ of China, asking the US to stop its wrong words and deeds, strengthen maritime risk management and control, avoid dangerous actions that may heat up the situation, and maintain regional peace and stability,” state-run Xinhua said.

Esper has signaled he plans to travel to China by the end of this year to explore some of these issues further, especially to focus on improving “crisis communications” channels.