Senior US and Chinese officials are set to meet virtually next month for much-needed high-level talks between the two military powers, according to a report released Thursday.
Hong Kong South China Morning Mail said the Pentagon discussed an appropriate format for dialogue after a consensus was reached at the November summit between President Joe Biden and China’s counterpart Xi Jinping.
The mail said the talks would likely be via secure phone or video conference, with dates being considered in early January. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will lead the meeting on the US side.
According to the paper, the Department of Defense hopes to link Austin with Xu Qiliang and Wei Fenghe. The former is Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission headed by President Xi, and the latter is China’s Defense Minister.
During the 3 1/2 hour Biden-Xi summit, both leaders agreed to maintain open lines of communication, with Biden warning that competition between the US and China “should not get into conflict.” He has recognized that the rivalry carries inherent risks of unintended military conflict.
The perennial issue of Taiwan, and especially the US’s increased support for its democratic government, is likely to be high on the agenda, as was the case during the Biden-Xi talks. Taipei is convinced that long-term US support will not change, no matter what happens to US-China relations. Taiwan’s leadership is also likely to be briefed before and after next month’s scheduled dialogue.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon said it was having trouble dealing with China’s top military leadership, notably Xu. According to Beijing, Wei is a more suitable counterpart for Austin The mail.
Senior Biden officials, including White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell, have expressed concerns about being unable to reach Xi’s closest political and military advisers. China’s currently accessible senior diplomats were “nowhere near” Xi’s inner circle, Campbell said in May. It was described as an obstacle that could hinder Xi’s decision-making when it came to foreign affairs and especially military matters.
The mail reported that progress is likely to be made on arms control, at a crucial time when both countries appear to be entering an arms race in conventional, hypersonic and nuclear weapons.
The Pentagon has reports in the Financial times of two Chinese hypersonic weapons tests this summer. Austin said “tensions are mounting in the region”.
The Hong Kong newspaper quoted Chinese sources as saying Beijing was unwilling to discuss arms control with the US on a bilateral basis, and that it would require Russia’s inclusion in a new arms treaty.
While President Biden has told Americans to expect “extreme competition” between the US and China, The mail said tensions have eased in recent months.
“PLA resistance to the passages of the Taiwan Strait by US warships has weakened,” a source told the newspaper. “They found that the warships had just passed through international waters on a route that saved about a third of their journey from the South China Sea to their base in Japan.”