In call with Chinese counterpart, Pentagon chief expresses concern about Beijing's activity in South China Sea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed concerns about Beijing’s “destabilizing” activity near Taiwan and the South China Sea in a call with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The call comes as U.S.-China ties have rapidly deteriorated this year over a range of issues including Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus, telecommunications equipment maker Huawei [HWT.UL], China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, and a clampdown on Hong Kong.

“Secretary Esper also communicated the importance that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) abide by international laws, rules and norms and meet its international commitments,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters, adding that the call lasted for an hour and a half.

He said Esper also reiterated the importance of a constructive and stable relationship.

“Wei … urged the U.S. side to stop erroneous words and deeds, improve the management and control of maritime risks, avoid taking dangerous moves that may escalate the situation, and safeguard regional peace and stability,” China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

This appears to be the first call between the two since March.

China on Thursday threatened to take countermeasures over a trip to Taiwan by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, as the Chinese-claimed island country geared up for its highest-level U.S. official visit in four decades.

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