U.S. Defense Department holds first talks with Chinese military under President Biden, official says
A senior United States Defense Department official held talks with the Chinese military in late August 2021 to focus on managing risk between the two countries, the first such discussions since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, a U.S. official said.
The U.S. has put countering the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the heart of its national security policy for years, and President Biden’s administration has described rivalry with Beijing as “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
Relations between the PRC and the U.S. have grown increasingly tense, with the world’s two largest economies clashing over everything from Taiwan and the PRC’s human rights record to Chinese military activity in the South China Sea. (Pictured: The flags of the People’s Republic of China and the United States wave outside a corporate building in Shanghai.)
Despite the tensions, U.S. military officials have long sought to have open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts to mitigate potential flare-ups or deal with accidents.
Michael Chase, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, spoke in August with Chinese Maj. Gen. Huang Xueping, deputy director for the People’s Liberation Army Office for International Military Cooperation.
They used “the U.S.-PRC Defense Telephone Link to conduct a secure video conference,” the U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Both sides agreed on the importance of maintaining open channels of communication between the two militaries.”
Officials said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has yet to speak with his Chinese counterpart, in part, because there was a debate about which Chinese official is Austin’s counterpart.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said during a trip to Southeast Asia in late August that the U.S. welcomes competition and does not seek conflict with Beijing but will speak up on issues such as maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam dispute the PRC’s expansive claims to the South China Sea, which is crossed by vital shipping lanes and contains gas fields and rich fishing grounds. An international tribunal in 2016 rejected the PRC’s claims as legally invalid.
President Biden has ramped up sanctions on the PRC over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. He also has rallied allies and partners to help counter what the White House says is the PRC’s increasingly coercive economic and foreign policies.
IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS