The Pentagon is struggling to get China to resume military-to-military talks, according to a senior US defense official, underscoring continuing tensions between the two sides despite last year’s meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.
(Bloomberg) — The Pentagon is struggling to get China to resume military-to-military talks, according to a senior US defense official, underscoring continuing tensions between the two sides despite last year’s meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping.
China cut off talks with the US on military, climate change and other issues after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August. A November meeting between Biden and Xi in Indonesia prompted climate discussions to resume, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in Cambodia later that month.
Since then, however, Beijing has rebuffed attempts to establish regular communication over defense issues crucial to preventing a potential crisis, according to the official.
The official, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive issues, added that the People’s Liberation Army has generally become more reckless toward US and allied partners in the South China Sea as it increases its military capacity, directing chaff toward other planes and having its ships cut across the bows of foreign vessels.
China’s Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of regular office hours.
US Cuts Taiwan Transits Even as China Steps Up Military Pressure
US officials have long said regular communication between Chinese and American defense personnel is key to preventing mishaps from escalating into conflict. But Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei last month said Washington needed to stop “constantly harming China’s interests” before that could happen.
Those remarks followed passage of the US National Defense Authorization Act, which approved up to $10 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing views as its territory. China’s Defense Ministry blasted the legislation as interference in the country’s internal affairs.
The US has also angered Beijing by ramping up efforts to block China from accessing cutting-edge semiconductor technology, a move that could impact the country’s weapons development as well its broader economic growth.
Taiwan-Invasion War Game by US Think Tank Sees a Fast China Flop
From Washington’s point of view, China has done little to ease military tensions between the two sides, despite the Pentagon reducing naval transits through the Taiwan Strait in 2022 to the lowest level in four years.
The PLA last month held its largest military drills near Taiwan since the unprecedented exercises that followed Pelosi’s trip. And Beijing has repeatedly signaled that it views both Taiwan and its claims to a vast swath of the South China Sea as core national security issues.
Critical to global trade, the South China Sea has seen a flurry of activity in recent months as Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines seek to counter incursions by Chinese vessels. Imagery shared with Bloomberg News by Western officials last month showed how Beijing is seeking to bolster its claims in the disputed waterway by building up several unoccupied land features.
China Accused of Fresh Territorial Grab in South China Sea
The US 7th Fleet said on Friday a carrier strike group began operating in the South China Sea to conduct maritime strike training and anti-submarine operations, while Chinese state media reported Sunday that its military deployed an aircraft carrier group of its own for a series of “confrontational drills.”
The lack of military talks hasn’t prevented other discussions and meetings from taking place. Along with the restarted climate talks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will hold her first face-to-face meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Jan. 18 in Zurich, and plans are underway for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit China in early 2023 as well.
–With assistance from James Mayger.
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