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Pentagon says US-China trade war won't 'spill over' into military talks

Key Points
  • Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan downplays concerns that the U.S.-China trade war will further complicate defense discussions with Beijing.
  • Shanahan, who is on an eight-day trip to Asia, says he will meet with his Chinese counterpart this week amid trade tensions between the world's two largest economies.
  • "Trade runs a separate track, and we'll solve that. It is too important not to solve," Shanahan tells reporters traveling with him Wednesday. "I don't believe [it will] spill over into our dialogue and discussion on defense."
Patrick Shanahan, acting U.S. Secretary of Defense, in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2019.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on Wednesday downplayed concerns that the U.S.-China trade war would further complicate defense discussions between Washington and Beijing.

"Trade runs a separate track, and we'll solve that. It is too important not to solve," Shanahan told reporters traveling with him. "I don't believe [it will] spill over into our dialogue and discussion on defense."

Shanahan, who embarked on an eight-day trip to Asia on Tuesday, said he would meet with his Chinese counterpart this week amid trade tensions between the world's two largest economies. The meeting between Shanahan and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe is expected to take place on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue defense summit in Singapore.

"The nice thing about being able to meet face to face is we'll probably be able to talk about how do we really have an ongoing dialogue," Shanahan said, adding that his goal would be to find areas of cooperation with China. "We can have very candid discussions around intellectual property theft or the militarization of the South China Sea or, you know, pick a whole host of subjects, and I think that's the value in having these dialogues," he said.

Earlier this month, Beijing upped the ante in the ongoing tit-for-tat trade war with Washington by raising tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. goods in retaliation for President Donald Trump's decision to hike duties on Chinese goods a week prior. Trade talks collapsed in May, with intellectual property theft proving to be a major sticking point between the two parties.

Read more: From tequila to TV cameras — here is a list of US goods China is targeting with a 25% tariff

U.S. officials have long complained that Chinese intellectual property theft has cost the economy billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs and that it threatens national security. China maintains that it does not engage in intellectual property theft.

The Trump administration is also working to isolate Chinese tech firm Huawei from developing a larger foothold in U.S. partner countries. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford has previously said that if U.S. allies proceed with Huawei's equipment, intelligence cooperation could be undermined.

"One of the things that underlines an alliance is the ability to share information, and when we share information with allies and partners we have to have common standards of information assurance," Dunford told a House Appropriations subcommittee earlier this month. "We have to be sure that our secrets are protected, whether it be intelligence or technology transfer."

Echoing Dunford's sentiments, Shanahan told lawmakers at the hearing that "China aims to steal its way to a China-controlled global technological infrastructure, including 5G."

"Huawei exemplifies the Chinese Communist Party's systemic, organized and state-driven approach to achieve global leadership in advanced technology," he said.

Last year, the Pentagon halted sales of Huawei and ZTE mobile phones and modems on military bases around the world due to potential security risks.

"These devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department's personnel and mission," wrote Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn. The Pentagon reaffirmed Wednesday its policy on banning the devices still stands.

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