China hopes new Pentagon chief seeks to avoid confrontation

China hopes the new U.S. defence chief will seek to avoid confrontation with China, the defence ministry said on Thursday, in the Chinese military’s first official reaction to the appointment of acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The world’s two largest economies are in the middle of a bruising trade war, but also have broader military disagreements, including over Chinese island building in the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its own.

Speaking at a regular monthly news briefing, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said it had noted the change of positions at the Pentagon, after Esper was appointed following his predecessor Patrick Shanahan’s resignation this month.

China set great store on its military relationship with the United States, and stable, healthy ties in this area were good for both countries and what the world expected, Ren added.

“We hope that during Acting Defense Secretary Esper’s time in office, the United States can work with China to put into effect the important consensus of the two countries’ leaders and grasp the broad direction of no conflict and no confrontation.”

China and the United States should also improve their risk management abilities, increase strategic mutual trust and ensure their military relationship becomes a stabiliser in their overall ties, Ren added.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)