U.S. and Chinese military officials met at the Pentagon for the first time in four years, two months after the White House struck a deal to resume military-to-military dialogue, the Pentagon said.

Dr. Michael Chase, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, Taiwan and Mongolia, met with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Major General Song Yanchao, deputy director of the Central Military Commission Office for International Military Cooperation, Monday and Tuesday to hold formal talks on U.S.-China relations and global security, according to a readout of the talks provided by the Pentagon. The Biden administration hopes a renewal of military-to-military communications can ease tensions that have only metastasized since China broke off all high-level engagements in August of 2022.

“Dr. Chase highlighted the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication in order to prevent competition from veering into conflict. He also discussed the importance of operational safety across the Indo-Pacific region; reaffirmed that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows; and underscored that the U.S. commitment to our allies in the Indo-Pacific and globally remains ironclad,” Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Mary Meiners said in the readout.

China had suspended the U.S.-PRC Defense Policy Coordination Talks and the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings as a “countermeasure” to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei, where she met with Taiwan’s democratic leaders, incensing Beijing. Since then, the U.S. military’s attempts at communicating with People’s Republic of China (PRC) leaders have been met with a wall of silence more often than not, according to the Department of Defense (DOD) annual Chinese Military Power report released in October.

The White House said both arrangements would resume after President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as other top administration officials, held a summit in San Francisco in November.

The last U.S.-PRC Defense Policy Coordination Talks were held virtually in 2021 and at the Pentagon in 2020, according to Politico.

Such talks “are an opportunity for us to be frank and candid with the PRC about how we see the relationship and any concerns that we have,” a U.S. defense official told Politico ahead of the meetings, on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.

Meetings on Jan. 7 and Jan. 8 represent the second high-level military engagement since Biden’s talk with Xi, according to Meiners. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. held a phone call with his counterpart in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Gen. Liu Zhenli, on Dec. 21.

China spurned repeated attempts for engagement at various levels in recent years, according to the Pentagon report, increasing the risk of an incident escalating into crisis or conflict.

The Pentagon has documented a sharp increase in “risky” moves Chinese planes have conducted near U.S. aircraft in the East and South China Sea regions since the fall of 2021. Some endangered lives of both the U.S. and Chinese crew members.

Micaela Burrow on January 10, 2024

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