Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
December 21, 2023
It is a good Christmas gift for everyone that top military officials, namely US Joint Chief of Staff, General CQ Brown and China’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Liu Zhenli, held a video conference, after a 16-month rupture. The US-China relation is stabilizing…
While it was good news, it should be noted that why this rupture happened: then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. It is understood that China warned that she should not visit Taiwan, unfortunately President Biden did not make a phone call to her so she would honor Biden’s request for her not to take the trip. It is well understood that her trip to Taiwan did not accomplish much for the benefit of the US.
The military hot lines are useful for crisis management. Biden’s official guideline for defining the US-China relation is “invest, align, and compete,” thus military confrontations should be avoided in the first place. Especially, most of the close calls between the US military and Chinese military have been very close to China, US military does not have a dominate position there.
The next US general election is less than one year away. Much anti-China rhetoric will surface in the US, it is Biden administration’s responsibility to assure China that the US policy vs China is still focused on “invest, align, and investment,” but no decoupling and no confrontation.
U.S., China Militaries Start Talking Again After a Dangerous Rupture
Video call between generals follows a summit agreement between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping
By Gordon Lubold Updated Dec. 21, 2023 1:02 pm ET
WASHINGTON—The Pentagon’s top officer spoke with his Chinese counterpart, restoring dialogue between the militaries after a 16-month rupture during which the U.S. said China’s forces conducted dangerous intercepts of American and allied planes and ships.
In a videoconference Thursday, Air Force Gen. CQ Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Liu Zhenli of the People’s Liberation Army’s Joint Staff Department, discussed global and regional security issues as well as other matters, the Pentagon said. China’s Defense Ministry cited Taiwan and the South China Sea as central topics.
Their call came together a little more than a month after President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to resume military contacts at a summit meeting outside San Francisco that succeeded in moderating the contentious tone in U.S.-China relations.
The resumption of military dialogue is another sign that Washington and Beijing are trying to sustain the positive momentum. Beijing, following up on another Biden-Xi agreement, has also moved against some illicit traders in the chemicals used to make fentanyl, U.S. officials said.
After several years of increasing tensions, however, the rapprochement is tentative, with strains over the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and a host of other issues from trade to technology. Officials on both sides expect the tensions to stay, making it imperative that Washington and Beijing find a way to manage disagreements.
The Biden administration is discussing raising already high tariffs on imports of Chinese electric vehicles, people familiar with the matter said.
Other disputes are looming. Beijing is warily watching next month’s presidential election in Taiwan, urging the U.S. to tone down its support for the island. Washington has also warned China to stop harassing Philippine vessels in the South China Sea.
The U.S. and Chinese militaries are frequently operating close to each other around Taiwan and in the South China Sea. Both governments have grown concerned about a possible mishap and the potential for it to spin out into a wider confrontation that neither side wants.
In Thursday’s call, “Gen. Brown discussed the importance of working together to responsibly manage competition, avoid miscalculations, and maintain open and direct lines of communication,” a Pentagon statement said. “Gen. Brown reiterated the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.”
Thursday’s call between the generals was the first substantive exchange between the militaries since Beijing broke off those and other dialogues in a pique over then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. Attempts in the intervening months to restore dialogue had foundered on China’s refusal, including an attempt soon after Brown became chairman in October.
“You don’t want a situation in the event of a mistake or an accident where the two militaries can’t intervene at a senior level to defuse the situation and separate whoever has collided,” U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said last week at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
China’s Defense Ministry, in its account of the call, said Gen. Liu put the onus for continuing military dialogue on the U.S. “The key to developing a healthy, stable, and sustainable military-to-military relationship is that the United States must have a correct understanding of China,” the ministry cited Liu as saying.
Liu urged the U.S. to respect China’s interests. It warned Washington not to interfere on Taiwan and to be “cautious in its words and deeds” in the South China Sea.
“We’ve been clear about the importance of opening up the lines of communication with the PRC at the senior most levels,” a senior military official said in advance of the call, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China. “However, it’s just one step, an important step, but it’s not the last step.”
Pentagon officials are discussing with the Chinese side re-establishing a “deconfliction line” that typically operates at a lower, staff level, to mitigate the chances of mishaps between Chinese and American aircraft and ships in Asia.
Also on the table are plans for bilateral defense policy coordination talks and, separately, for consultations in the spring on military and maritime issues, the Pentagon officials said.