Biden Seeks to Enhance Military Ties with China During Meeting with Xi

by Gabriel Martinez
US-China Military Relations

In an upcoming meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are poised to reinstate some military communication channels between the U.S. and China. These discussions are anticipated to occur on the sidelines of the summit.

This initiative aims to rejuvenate the routine dialogues as part of the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement. This agreement, active until 2020, facilitated the enhancement of safety measures in airborne and maritime operations, as informed by a U.S. official who preferred to remain anonymous while discussing the expected declaration of the leaders.

The reinstatement of these communications has been a point of concern for U.S. military officials, particularly in the wake of escalating incidents of dangerous or unprofessional interactions involving vessels and aircraft from both countries.

The Pentagon’s latest report highlights China’s recent avoidance or dismissal of military engagements with the U.S., intensifying throughout the previous and current year. This neglect of communication, the report emphasizes, elevates the risk of misunderstandings escalating into larger conflicts.

The U.S. regards maintaining military relations with China as vital for preventing misunderstandings and ensuring peace in the Indo-Pacific region. Here’s an overview of the complex dynamics between the U.S. and Chinese military forces.

A History of Dialogue and Exchange

Over 15 years ago, the U.S. Defense Department began making strides in improving relations with China, as both nations increased their military presence in the Indo-Pacific. While the U.S. was wary of China’s rapid military expansion, China was cautious of the U.S.’s growing regional influence. To foster better understanding and communication, defense officials from both nations frequently met. In 2008, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted the establishment of a direct phone line with China, marking a significant step in enhancing relations.

High-ranking U.S. defense officials and their Chinese counterparts continued these exchanges over the next decade, including visits to each other’s countries. For instance, in 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited China’s Yuchi Naval Base, marking a significant moment as he boarded China’s first aircraft carrier.

The 2014 Defense Department report on China’s military capabilities mentioned a positive trend in U.S.-China relations, citing increased dialogues, agreements, and military exercises aimed at reducing risks and enhancing transparency.

Persistent Challenges

Despite these efforts, challenges persisted. The U.S.’s strategic shift towards the Pacific under the Obama administration, which increased American military presence, drew sharp criticism from Beijing. China’s actions in the South China Sea, particularly its militarization of artificial islands, raised alarms in the U.S. and among its Pacific allies.

In 2018, tensions escalated as the Trump administration excluded Beijing from the Rim of the Pacific military exercise, citing China’s militarization of the South China Sea islands. Additionally, China’s ongoing support for Taiwan, which it considers its territory, further strained relations.

The U.S. has also condemned China’s increasing cyberattacks and espionage activities targeting sensitive defense sectors.

Impact of the Pandemic and Pelosi’s Visit

Military contacts with China dwindled during the COVID-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions and tensions over the virus’s origins in China. Beijing’s suspension of all military contacts following former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taiwan exacerbated these tensions. Pelosi’s visit, the highest by an American official since 1997, prompted a military response from China, including missile launches and naval exercises.

The Pentagon has expressed concern over the rise in risky Chinese military activities, emphasizing the need for communication to avoid accidental conflicts.

The Importance of Renewing the Maritime Agreement

Bonnie Lin, a director at the Center for Strategic and International Security, stressed the significance of resuming dialogues under the maritime agreement. Restarting these talks would symbolize a potential for collaborative efforts between the two nations.

This report includes insights from Tara Copp, a writer for Big Big News.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about US-China Military Relations

What are President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to discuss at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit?

At the summit, Biden and Xi are anticipated to agree on restoring military-to-military communications between the U.S. and China, focusing on improving safety in air and sea operations and addressing recent increases in unsafe military interactions.

How has the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement been used in the past?

The Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, until 2020, facilitated dialogues aimed at enhancing safety in airborne and maritime operations. It served as a platform for the U.S. and China to improve operational safety and reduce the risk of miscalculations.

Why is the resumption of military communications between the U.S. and China significant?

The resumption is significant due to the escalating incidents and tensions between the two nations’ military forces. Restoring communication is seen as crucial for preventing misunderstandings and potential conflicts, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.

What historical efforts have been made to improve U.S.-China military relations?

Over the past 15 years, the U.S. and China have engaged in regular dialogues and exchanges to improve transparency and communication. This includes establishing direct communication lines and high-level visits by defense officials to each other’s countries.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic and Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan affect U.S.-China military relations?

The pandemic and Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022 significantly strained military relations. China suspended all military contacts with the U.S. following Pelosi’s visit, leading to a decrease in direct military communications during the pandemic.

More about US-China Military Relations

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Sara Miller November 15, 2023 - 2:15 pm

Can’t believe it’s been so long since those military talks stopped, about time they got back to it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Mike_87 November 15, 2023 - 11:57 pm

This is just for show, no way China’s gonna back down on the South China Sea or Taiwan, they’re just stalling.

Dave Johnson November 16, 2023 - 2:36 am

wow this is a big deal, biden and xi talking, hope they can fix things but not sure if china will play ball.

JennyK November 16, 2023 - 4:49 am

Interesting article but I think it misses how tense things really are, the pandemic and Pelosi’s visit really did a number on relations. Let’s see if this meeting changes anything.


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