U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed, Saturday, at a conference in Singapore the need to maintain a Sino-American dialogue. Mr. Austin stressed this need amid heightened tensions between the two giants, from the Taiwan question to freedom of navigation in Southeast Asia.

Dialogue between the United States and China is “essential” to avoid miscalculations that could lead to conflict, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday, after Beijing rejected a formal meeting between him and his Chinese counterpart.

Austin and Li Shangfu shook hands and spoke briefly for the first time at the opening dinner of the Shangri-La Dialogue defence summit in Singapore on Friday, but the interaction fell short of the Pentagon’s hopes for a more substantive exchange.

Tensions between Washington and Beijing have soared this year over issues including Taiwan and an alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down by a US warplane after traversing the country.

The US defence chief is on a tour of Asia that previously took him to Japan and will also include a visit to India — part of a push by top American officials to shore up alliances and partnerships in the region to help counter Beijing.

The Chinese delegation swiftly responded to Austin’s speech, with Senior Colonel Tang Hefei, spokesperson for China’s defense ministry, saying that the Pentagon chief “made several false accusations” in his remarks.

Defense minister Li, who will address the meeting on Sunday, was sanctioned by the US government in 2018 for buying Russian weapons, but the Pentagon says that does not prevent Austin from conducting official business with him.

The US defense chief also took aim at Beijing for conducting “an alarming number of risky intercepts of US and allied aircraft flying lawfully in international airspace”, including one last week.

Video footage released by the US military showed a Chinese fighter plane crossing in front of the American aircraft, which could be seen shaking from the resulting turbulence.

In April, Beijing launched three days of military exercises around the democratic self-ruled island of Taiwan, simulating targeted strikes and a blockade.

China considers Taiwan a part of its territory to be taken one day and the island lives under the constant fear of invasion.

The Chinese exercises came in response to a meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California, which China’s consulate in Los Angeles said undermined “the political foundation of China-US relations”.

Malo Pinatel, with AFP