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US Defense Secretary Talks Regional Stability with Japanese Counterpart

FILE - Demonstrators stage a rally welcoming the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken outside the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, March 17, 2021.

The United States is reaching out to more allies in the Indo-Pacific, hoping to keep tensions in the region from boiling over amid growing concerns about China and North Korea.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone Friday with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, agreeing to hold a new round of security consultations soon.

A U.S. Defense Department readout of the call underscored Austin’s “commitment to security and stability in the region.”

The two officials “discussed efforts to deepen defense cooperation to maintain regional deterrence,” according to the statement. “They also emphasized the importance of close cooperation among the U.S., Japan, and the Republic of Korea.”

The conversation between Austin and Kishi came as the U.S. defense secretary wrapped up a two-day visit to South Korea for the 53rd U.S.-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).

Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook agreed to expand Seoul’s role as a provider of security across the Indo-Pacific region.

Additionally, a joint communique issued following Thursday’s talks “acknowledged the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

South Korean officials said just what role South Korea would play in the Indo-Pacific, or when it comes to Taiwan, remains under discussion. But Austin and Suh both emphasized a need to continue cooperation with Japan to better address threats from North Korea and in the region as a whole.

Earlier this week, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Taiwan-based research organization that a potential Chinese military attack on Taiwan would be “a major danger to Japan's territory.”

“A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Abe said.

The remarks by the former Japanese leader sparked anger in Beijing, which summoned Japan’s ambassador for an emergency meeting.

A statement from Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying, further criticized Abe’s remarks, saying they "openly challenged China's sovereignty and gave brazen support to Taiwan independence forces."

Last month, a senior U.S. defense official, briefing reporters on a new Pentagon report, warned that Beijing appeared to be "preparing for a contingency to unify [Taiwan] by force and … to be able to deter, to delay or otherwise to counter third-party intervention.”

The Pentagon announced Friday that U.S. defense officials briefed their Chinese counterparts on the report during what it described as a working-level, virtual meeting

The Pentagon said the briefing, which took place Tuesday, was constructive and sought to “build understanding and maintain open channels of communication.”

U.S. officials said it was at least the third time defense officials have spoken with their Chinese counterparts since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January.

The Pentagon report also concluded that Beijing is “increasingly willing to confront the United States and other countries in areas where interest diverge,” and warned that China is likely to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030.—