U.S. and China to Elevate Military Talks in Bid to Ease Tensions

U.S. and China to Elevate Military Talks in Bid to Ease Tensions

12:21 - Officials in Washington and Beijing have agreed to open high-level channels of communication between their militaries, according to a person familiar with the matter.

During a 3 1/2-hour virtual summit with President Joe Biden on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to support such channels between the U.S. military and top officials from the People’s Liberation Army, including the vice chairman of the country’s powerful Central Military Commission, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.

The White House is now defining a strategy on how to approach these engagements, including in the areas of cybersecurity, space and nuclear weapons, as well as testing and deployment issues of concern to the U.S., the person said. The discussions won’t be formal arms control negotiations of the kind that the U.S. previously held with the Soviet Union and Russia, according to the person, who said the exact format for the forthcoming military-to-military talks is still to be determined.

The agreement is a further sign of thawing ties between the world’s two largest economies and comes after months of escalating tensions, fueled most recently by China’s test of a hypersonic weapon and a warning from Pentagon intelligence officials that China’s nuclear arsenal was growing more quickly than expected.

Asked about the prospect of high-level talks, Pentagon officials pointed to a briefing on Nov. 16, when Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the Biden administration is seeking “ways that we can cooperate with China on climate, for example” and “we’d like nothing more than to be able to deter any conflict or miscalculation.”

A White House spokesman had no immediate comment, and the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Counterparts’ Silence
After almost nine months in office, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has yet to speak to his counterpart at China’s defense ministry, a government organization that formally represents the Chinese military to the world but lacks the power of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.

Following their virtual summit this week, Xi and Biden agreed in principle to talk again, but the U.S. didn’t ask for a specific date or time, the person said.

The agreement to elevate ties between the countries’ militaries marks a step toward reestablishing regular channels of high-level communication between them. U.S. officials have long complained that the kind of highly orchestrated, formal dialogues preferred by Beijing are unproductive. Former President Donald Trump scrapped most regular high-level talks with the exception of trade negotiations.

The Biden administration has been cautious so far about reconstituting previous formats for talks. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in July that she and her staff have no plans to resurrect the regular U.S.-China economic dialogue scrapped by Trump.

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