The Hill’s Defense & National Security — Biden officials visit with Chinese, Thai figures

·8 min read
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White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spent more than four hours on Monday meeting with China’s top diplomat in Luxembourg, while Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Thailand to meet with the prime minister.

We’ll share details of these two trips and what they hoped to accomplish, plus new disciplinary actions over the deadly 2020 amphibious vehicle sinking that killed eight Marines and one sailor, a safety stand down in the Navy and a bill to help soldiers exposed to toxic substances.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Sullivan meets with top Chinese diplomat

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday spent more than four hours meeting with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Luxembourg to discuss a range of topics, according to a senior administration official.

Sullivan reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment to the “one China” policy as well as concerns about China’s “coercive and aggressive actions” across the Taiwan Strait, the official said, and warned against assisting Russia in its war in Ukraine.

The issues: “The two shared their assessments of U.S.-China relations, including an exchange of views of how each side sees the dynamic between our two countries,” the official said, describing the meeting as “candid, in-depth, substantive, and productive.”

Sullivan also raised concerns about China’s recent veto of a U.S. resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would have imposed new sanctions on North Korea following recent missile launches.

“Jake made very clear that this is an area where we believe the United States and China should be able to work together,” the official said.

Earlier: “The two shared their assessments of U.S.-China relations, including an exchange of views of how each side sees the dynamic between our two countries,” the official said, describing the meeting as “candid, in-depth, substantive, and productive.”

Sullivan also raised concerns about China’s recent veto of a U.S. resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would have imposed new sanctions on North Korea following recent missile launches.

“Jake made very clear that this is an area where we believe the United States and China should be able to work together,” the official said.

A BROADER EFFORT

The White House characterized Sullivan’s meeting with Yang as part of the administration’s broader effort to “responsibly” manage competition between the U.S. and China.

“Mr. Sullivan underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to manage competition between our two countries,” a White House readout said.

Elsewhere in the world: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday met with Thailand’s prime minister to attempt to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the region.

During the visit, Austin’s first to the country as Pentagon chief, the two officials “shared perspectives on regional security issues, and discussed opportunities to strengthen the U.S.-Thai alliance,” according to a Defense Department readout on the meeting.

Austin also highlighted “the U.S. commitment to increasing the number of Thai students receiving professional military education in the United States.”

In addition, the two “welcomed recent efforts to expand bilateral training and exercises, including through the establishment of a new working group on reciprocal access and training.”

Read the full story here

Navy censures officers involved in 2020 ship sinking

The Navy has censured three Marine Corps officers and two Navy officers for their roles in the deadly Amphibious Assault Vehicle tragedy in southern California in July 2020.

The letters of censure issued to the five officers by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro serve as a public rebuke of their actions before and during the accident, which resulted in the death of eight Marines and one sailor.

  • “When leaders’ actions or inactions result in the loss of life or capital resources, the senior leadership of the Department of the Navy has a responsibility to determine the root cause and hold those accountable,” Del Toro said in a message sent to the Department of the Navy on June 2. 

  • “Following a thorough review of the command investigations into the AAV sinking, these officers received [Secretarial Letters of Censure (SLOC)] due to their inadequate leadership and execution of their oversight duties.”

Who got a letter: The letters were issued to retired Marine Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, the former commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force; Marine Col. Christopher Bronzi, former commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; Navy Capt. Stewart Bateshansky, former commander of the Amphibious Task Force; Navy Capt. John Kurtz, former commanding officer of the USS Somerset amphibious transport dock; and Marine Lt. Col. Keith Brenize, former commanding officer of the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion.

The accident: The nine service members were killed on July 30, 2020, when their AAV quickly sank in 385 feet of water off the coast of San Clemente Island while training with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The vehicle — which can weigh roughly 26 tons and was carrying 16 people — sank after it began to take on water while traveling from the island to its transport dock ship after an exercise.

The vessel was one of several that experienced mechanical problems on the island and as it tried to return its transmission failed. Water then began to fill the vehicle, but its commander, Lt. Col. Michael Regner, waited too long to order service members to evacuate.

Read more here

Navy announces ‘safety pause’ in wake of crashes

The U.S. Navy paused all non-deployed aircraft units on Monday to conduct a safety screening in the wake of multiple recent aircraft crashes, according to an announcement over the weekend.

  • The “safety pause” announced on Saturday is intended “to review risk-management practices and conduct training on threat and error-management processes.” 

  • “In order to maintain the readiness of our force, we must ensure the safety of our people remains one of our top priorities,” the Navy added.

A string of crashes: The pause comes following three crashes in June, two of which were fatal.

One Navy pilot died in a crash in California roughly 170 miles northeast of Los Angeles during a June 3 training mission involving an F/A-18E Super Hornet.

On June 8, five Marines were killed after another plane, an MV-22B Osprey, crashed in California east of San Diego.

And on June 9, a crash involving an MH-60S Seahawk crashed during a routine training flight in California. All four crew members survived that crash, the Navy said.

Read more here

FROM THE WEEKEND

Senate poised to pass bill helping soldiers exposed to toxic substances

Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson deployed to Iraq and Kosovo with the Ohio National Guard, but the battle didn’t end when he returned home.

After returning to Ohio, Robinson experienced gushing nosebleeds and bleeding from his ear caused by a rare autoimmune disease.

A new battle: In 2017, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that his oncologist said only could’ve been caused by prolonged toxic exposure.

Despite these health issues, Robinson’s family was unable to get caregiver benefits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) because they couldn’t prove that his illness was caused by his military service.

Robinson’s mother-in-law, Susan Zeier, stood alongside lawmakers and advocates at a press event in Washington this past week and explained the tiring ordeal of taking care of Heath before he died of his cancer in 2020.

“Needless to say, Heath spent his final three years battling the war that followed him home,” Zeier said. “He told us that he is a soldier and soldiers don’t know how to give up.”

On the cusp: Two years after Robinson’s death, Congress is poised to pass legislation in his honor to help millions of veterans like him.

Read the full story here

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The U.S. Army Military District of Washington will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery to mark the Army’s 247th birthday, with Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, at 9 a.m.

  • The Center for a New American Security will hold Day 1 of its virtual 2022 National Security Conference on “Security in the Balance,” at 10 a.m.

  • U.S. Cyber Command Executive Director Dave Frederick will speak at the Government Executive Media Group Defense One Tech Summit at 1 p.m.

  • The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft will host a virtual discussion on “The Threat of Nuclear War: Four Decades After ‘The Day After,” at 5 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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