After a year of simmering tensions and near-miss incidents between the United States and China, President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping have finally agreed to resume high-level military communication. The breakthrough came during their face-to-face meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco. Both leaders expressed their commitment to direct, open, and clear communications, acknowledging the potential consequences of miscalculations in their bilateral relationship.
Avoiding Dangerous Encounters
One of the primary motivations for reviving military talks is to prevent dangerous encounters between Chinese and American forces. China’s military exercises around Taiwan and its aggressive maneuvers in the South China Sea have raised concerns in the U.S. Both countries have competing territorial claims, making it crucial to have effective channels of communication to avoid any unintentional escalation. President Biden emphasized the importance of minimizing vital miscalculations that could lead to real trouble between the two nations.
The decision to resume military talks comes after a series of disruptions in communication between China and the U.S. In early February, China’s Defense Ministry declined a call with its U.S. counterpart, following the discovery of an alleged Chinese spy balloon over U.S. airspace. This incident led to the delay of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China. When Blinken finally visited, he raised the need for direct communication between the two countries’ militaries, but his efforts failed to yield meaningful results. China’s dismissal of Gen. Li Shangfu in late October also added uncertainty to the military dialogue.
A Path Forward
As part of their agreement, senior U.S. military commanders, including those overseeing Pacific forces in Hawaii, will engage with their Chinese counterparts. These exchanges will help establish a framework for discussing incidents and potentially sharing best practices. The goal is to create an environment that encourages open dialogue and reduces the risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding between the two nations. Both sides have emphasized the importance of equality and respect in resuming military talks.
Despite the positive development in military communication, significant challenges persist in the U.S.-China relationship. The issue of Taiwan, in particular, remains a contentious subject. President Biden reiterated the U.S. position, stating that Taiwan should maintain its sovereignty despite China’s claims to the contrary. Chinese state media reported that President Xi highlighted Taiwan as the “most important and sensitive” issue, urging the U.S. to refrain from supporting Taiwan independence and to halt armament sales to the island. Resolving the Taiwan issue will require delicate diplomacy and mutual understanding.
In addition to military talks, the leaders agreed to establish an intergovernmental dialogue on artificial intelligence and a working group on drug control. Both countries also intend to increase flights between them and expand exchanges in education, business, and culture. Notably, China has already taken action against nearly two dozen companies involved in the production of fentanyl, a highly addictive drug that has contributed to overdoses and deaths in the U.S. President Biden emphasized the need to curb fentanyl production substantially, underscoring the common ground between the two nations on this critical issue.
Addressing Economic and Technology Concerns
During their meeting, President Xi referenced the export controls, investment reviews, and sanctions imposed by the Biden administration on Chinese companies. He called for the U.S. to lift these sanctions and provide a non-discriminatory environment for Chinese businesses. The issue of artificial intelligence was also raised, with both sides recognizing the need for caution in avoiding its incorrect use in military or nuclear operations. The Biden administration’s efforts to limit U.S. companies’ contribution to technology supporting China’s military were acknowledged by President Xi.
The resumption of high-level military talks between the U.S. and China marks a significant step forward in bilateral relations. President Biden and President Xi have demonstrated a willingness to address their differences through direct communication and cooperation. While challenges, particularly concerning Taiwan, remain to be resolved, establishing clear channels of communication will help prevent potentially dangerous encounters and foster greater understanding between the two nations. The agreement to expand dialogues on various issues, such as artificial intelligence and drug control, further indicates a willingness to find common ground and pursue mutual benefits. As they move forward, both countries must navigate complex geopolitical dynamics and maintain a delicate balance between competition and cooperation.