The U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs on Friday emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in their first face-to-face talks in 18 months, as the two sides seek to rebuild frayed military-to-military ties and manage the rival nations’ increasingly tense relationship.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Adm. Dong Jun met for 75 minutes in Singapore ahead of the formal kickoff of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security conference, with the two sides agreeing to resume telephone conversations between theater commanders in the coming months.

Austin also welcomed plans to convene a crisis-communications working group by the end of the year.