Top brass from rival superpowers resume talks

Alex Willemyns for RFA
Top brass from rival superpowers resume talks Gen. C.Q. Brown [left], the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, “discussed a number of global and regional security issues” with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liu Zhenli, the Pentagon says.
[Reuters file photos]

Gen. C.Q. Brown, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liu Zhenli, in a video call on Thursday morning, putting an end to an almost 18-month-long freeze on direct talks between the leaders of the world’s two biggest militaries.

The generals “discussed a number of global and regional security issues,” a readout from the Pentagon said, and “the importance of working together to responsibly manage competition, avoid miscalculations, and maintain open and direct lines of communication.” 

“Gen. Brown reiterated the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings,” it said, adding that the top U.S. general “remains open to constructive dialogue” with his Chinese counterparts.

American military leaders had complained that China’s top generals were not picking up the phone, even amid an uptick in near-accidents between the two armed forces over the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, which spurred predictions of an accidental war.

Direct communications were severed by China’s military leaders following then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022, which led to nearly a year of animosity between Beijing and Washington that finally began to ebb around June.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to San Francisco last month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and his face-to-face talks with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the event then led to a pledge from both leaders to reinstate direct military talks.

The Chinese warship Luyang III cuts in front of the destroyer USS Chung-Hoon, as seen from the deck of the destroyer, in the Taiwan Strait, June 3, 2023. [U.S. Navy via Reuters]

Biden said after the talks that he hoped the resumption would lead to fewer incidents of brinkmanship and near-accidents over water.

“That’s how accidents happen. Misunderstandings,” he said of the months of no communication between the two militaries. “So we’re back to direct, open, clear communications on a direct basis.”

Status quo ante

The statement from the Pentagon also said that Gen. Brown had stressed the need to return to the annual Defense Policy Coordination Talks between lower-level U.S. and Chinese military officials that were also canceled by Beijing in the wake of Pelosi’s Taiwan trip last year.

The top American military chief also called for the resumption of direct talks between the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which is headquartered in Hawaii, and the commanders of the equivalent Eastern and Southern Theater Commands of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

However, it did not say whether Gen. Liu agreed to a resumption.

The United States has also sought direct talks between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, who until October was the now-fired but not replaced Gen. Li Shangfu. Gen. Li had refused to talk with Austin until U.S. sanctions against him were lifted, and it is unclear when Xi will appoint his replacement.

A Pentagon official told reporters that the call between Gen. Brown and Gen. Liu was a good starting point for improved military ties.

“It’s ... an important step, but it's not the last step,” the official said.


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