A military flare-up between China and the United States would have devastating consequences. The phone conversation between Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin, therefore offers hope amid icy relations. The words exchanged were candid rather than warm, to be expected given fractured ties. But being the first such contact between the sides in more than two years, it shows recognition that tensions are at a dangerous level and need to be cooled. President Xi Jinping warned of the dangers just hours after the call in opening the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan. Without referring directly to the US and its allies, he told delegates that a “cold war mentality, hegemonism and power politics will only breach global peace”. He proposed a Chinese-led security initiative, rejected unilateral action and confrontation and advocated non-interference and respect for sovereignty. With the backdrop of the Russian war in Ukraine and US-driven sanctions and efforts to strengthen the Nato alliance, and Washington’s continued adversarial policy towards Beijing, there was no doubt in which direction his words were aimed. The Ukraine crisis has been used by the US to further its rivalry with China, already tense over trade friction, human rights accusations and Chinese claims of sovereignty. Beijing’s refusal to condemn Moscow and the Taiwan issue were among topics broached by Wei and Austin in the call initiated by the American. It followed a video meeting between Xi and Joe Biden last month, but was the first time the defence officials had spoken since the US leader took office 15 months ago. Ukraine has raised tensions over Taiwan, an inalienable part of Chinese territory, with some on the self-governed island and in the US contending it could be used by the People’s Liberation Army as reason to invade. China expected to skip Covid summit co-hosted by Biden There is no such evidence, but the US has markedly increased military activity near the island, continued selling weapons and a congressional delegation recently visited. The PLA has countered with air and sea manoeuvres. Wei and Austin broached the issue and understandably so, as the lack of communication between the nations’ militaries and their proximity near Taiwan could easily lead to an accident. Wei made plain Beijing’s position that Taiwan was an inseparable part of China and the PLA would “resolutely defend the national sovereign security and territorial integrity”. The Pentagon said the officials discussed US-China defence relations, regional security issues and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is every need for the sides to frankly talk about such topics. Ensuring dialogue on difficult matters is important, but so, too, is pulling back militaries to ensure the status quo.