China defence minister discusses policy on Hong Kong, Xinjiang with US, for the first time

While Taiwan and the South China Sea has often been discussed, experts were surprised that China also discussed Hong Kong and Xinjiang

US China flag
US China flags. Reuters

Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe discussed policies surrounding Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea and Xinjiang with US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper in a telephone call on Wednesday, November 6. Wei "stressed" China's position on the contentious issues and called for "mutually beneficial cooperation" as the "only correct choice" between China and the United States.

"The two sides should ... continue to advance military-to-military relations to make them a pillar of stability in bilateral relations," Wei was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Reports suggest that while Taiwan and the South China Sea has often been discussed in a bid to assert China's sovereignty over the disputed regions, experts were surprised that China also discussed Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The ongoing pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong that began in June has been the biggest political movement in the semi-autonomous region against Chinese authority and its 'oppressive policies'. The crisis is the biggest challenge that Chinese president Xi Jinping has faced since he came to power in 2012. The US has repeatedly pointed out the human rights violations against the Uighur population in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. China has been accused of keeping two million Uighur as well as other Muslims in detention centres.

While China had earlier denied the accusations, it later asserted that the facilities were "re-integration and re-education centres" to eliminate poverty and extremist operatives of Pakistan-trained Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) militants.

While not much information has been released about what all was discussed in the phone conversation between the two defence chiefs, Wei had made a "strategic pledge to support peace, stability and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region" at a security forum in Beijing on Monday.

Tensions between China and Taiwan have increased after Beijing's assertion of the province as a "One China" and sacred territory. In July, Beijing said that it is "ready to go to war" if people "try to split Taiwan from the country". China has denounced the $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan in August and warned of 'countermeasures' accusing the US of harming bilateral relations, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

China has expanded its military capabilities by deploying a large number of intermediate-range missiles on the South China Sea that has disturbed the Indo-Pacific region. Vietnam and Australia have voiced "serious concerns" about military and land reclamation developments in the contentious South China Sea at a meeting in Hanoi in August. Vietnam has demanded China to withdraw its vessels including survey ships from the disputed Vietnam-controlled Spratly Islands, which is also claimed by China.

Relations between Vietnam and China have deteriorated due to a dispute over the "nine-dash line," a large expanse of land of the East Sea that includes Vietnam's energy-rich waters, particularly oil, in its continental shelf and also offer strategic leverage to the world sea trade route.

The United States had said that China's interests in oil and gas activities through deployed vessels in the disputed waters in Vietnam was an "an escalation by Beijing in its efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea". The State Department stated that China's actions not only undermine regional peace and security but also blocks economic access to Southeast Asian states on an estimated $2.5 trillion in unexploited hydrocarbon resources.