US and China resume military contacts at the highest level

US and China resume military contacts at the highest level

Stay informed with free updatesSimply sign up to the US-China relations myFT Digest — delivered directly to your inbox.The US and China resumed high-level military contacts that have been suspended since a bitter falling out over Taiwan in 2022, with the Pentagon’s top officer on Thursday holding his first call with his counterpart in Beijing.General CQ Brown, who took over as US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in October, held the call with General Liu Zhenli, his counterpart in China’s People’s Liberation Army, the Pentagon announced.US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed last month to restart military-to-military communications that Beijing halted in August 2022 after then-House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan.The renewed talks come as Beijing and Washington seek to thaw icy bilateral relations and both governments deal with a series of crises buffeting their leadership. The White House is struggling to manage wars in Gaza and Ukraine, while Xi is facing a severe economic slump at home.“I think both sides see that, with the Taiwan elections in January but also the US elections coming in November of next year, 2024 promises to pose some important tests for US-China relations,” said Jacob Stokes, an Asia expert at the Center for a New American Security think-tank. “If it’s possible to inject a level of stability into the relationship in advance of that, it might help ties weather those tensions without major problems erupting,” Stokes added.The Pentagon said Brown discussed “the importance of working together to responsibly manage competition, avoid miscalculations and maintain open and direct lines of communication”.Brown said that “substantive dialogue” would “reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings”, according to the Pentagon statement. The US military has accused Beijing of “risky and coercive” intercepts by the PLA’s air force, with fighter jets flown dangerously close to American military aircraft, though the top American officer in the region has said those manoeuvres have tailed off in recent months.China struck a more cautious public tone after the talks. According to a statement released by the defence ministry, Liu told his US counterpart that the Chinese military will defend its territorial claims over Taiwan. Beijing has not ruled out using force to take over the island. He said that Washington’s “correct understanding” of China is critical to a stable and sustainable military-to-military relationship between the two superpowers and suggested Washington “be cautious in its words and deeds”. Liu also said the US must respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea, a disputed territory over which Beijing is increasingly assertive. Relations between Washington and Beijing have been at one of their lowest points since Biden took office three years ago, with his administration expressing mounting concerns over the PLA’s activity around Taiwan, its rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal and Xi’s treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.Attempts to mend bridges were scuppered earlier this year after the US shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina.China, for its part, has objected to US export controls that restrict access to cutting-edge technology, particularly microprocessors that can be used in quantum computing and artificial intelligence that also have military applications.US defence officials described the calls as a first step to resuming more open military communications at all levels. China and the US have been in talks over a series of senior-level military engagements in 2024.RecommendedOfficials have cautioned that additional contacts could take time, in part because China has not replaced defence minister Li Shangfu, who was formally removed from his post in October amid a corruption investigation. Brown called for restarting a channel known as the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, which is designed to help reduce the chances of an incident at sea escalating.He also resumed an effort to arrange a meeting between Admiral John Aquilino, the top US officer in the Pacific, and his Chinese counterparts, a push that has been under way for almost three years.

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