China Demands U.S. End 'Hostile' Military Operations Near Its Borders

China said it demanded an end to U.S. military operations in its nearby seas and skies when its defense representatives held talks with officers of American forces in the Pacific earlier this month.

The virtual meeting conducted under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) took place between December 14 and 16. Representatives from the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces met with People's Republic of China (PRC) counterparts from its People's Liberation Army Navy and Air Force.

A December 17 statement by Hawaii-based U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) said American and Chinese officials discussed maritime and aviation safety and professionalism, and also "reviewed safety-related events."

Maj. Gen. Chris McPhillips, director for Strategic Planning and Policy at USINDOPACOM, led the U.S. delegation. He said in an accompanying statement: "MMCA forum allows straightforward conversation to develop a common understanding on safe operational interactions between U.S. and PRC air and naval forces. MMCA serves as a guardrail for military encounters to reduce risk in the air and at sea, helping the two sides manage competition responsibly."

On Thursday, China's Defense Ministry used its final press conference of the year to air grievances about the U.S.'s defense posture and the growing perception of China's military threat among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The ministry's spokesperson, Col. Tan Kefei, also was less reserved in his summary of this month's MMCA meeting with American officials.

Both sides "exchanged views on the current state of China-U.S. maritime and aviation safety" and discussed measures to address safety issues, he said.

"China made it very clear to the U.S. that the safety of vessels and aircraft is tied to national security," said Tan. "The root cause of China-U.S. maritime and aviation safety issues are the American warships and warplanes that have conducted long-term, high-intensity, close-in reconnaissance, measurements, extremely targeted exercises as well as frequent infringements and provocative actions in the sea and airspace near China.

"The U.S.'s stopping these hostile naval and air force operations is the fundamental solution to China-U.S. maritime and aviation safety issues."

China Complains About U.S. Air, Sea Operations
Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 11 and the Royal Malaysian Air Force fly above the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during a joint exercise in the South China Sea on April 7, 2021. In a year-end press conference on December 30, 2021, China's Defense Ministry called on the United States to cease all military operations in its surrounding sea and airspace. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dartañon D. De La Garza/U.S. Navy

Tan also expressed Beijing's opposition to President Joe Biden's signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) earlier this week. The NDAA for 2022 includes a $768 billion defense package, part of which will better equip American forces in the Pacific.

The law also requires the Pentagon to produce a series of reports and analyses about China's military and diplomatic strategies across the globe. China is mentioned more than 130 times.

Tan described the NDAA as "full of Cold War mentality and ideological bias." Its contents "exaggerate the China threat theory" and include "groundless accusations" related to Beijing's policies toward Taiwan and Xinjiang, he said.

He said the law "undermines mutual trust between China and the U.S., and seriously poisons relations between the two countries and two militaries." Tan said bilateral ties at the state and military level were in a "dangerous place."

When Biden met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at a virtual summit in November, the two leaders agreed to maintain open lines of communication in order to avoid military accidents, unintended or otherwise.

Ely Ratner, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month that the Defense Department was working to restore military-to-military communications with a focus on "crisis communications and crisis management."