U.S. and China Hold 'Frank' Defense Talks to De-Escalate Tensions

The United States and China held "frank" defense talks this week that confirmed the need for more open dialogue, the Department of Defense said on Wednesday, following public signals from the White House that it wants to dial down tensions with Beijing.

The two-day video conference was led by Michael Chase, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, and Maj. Gen. Huang Xueping, who is deputy director of the People's Liberation Army Office for International Military Cooperation.

It was the first formal dialogue held under the mechanism known as the Defense Policy Coordination Talks since January 2020, during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

At the end of August, Reuters reported that Chase, a former senior military analyst at the RAND Corporation think tank, and Huang had spoken briefly by phone in order to manage "crisis and risk."

On Wednesday, the Pentagon issued a statement about the formal talks held on Tuesday and Wednesday, saying: "The meeting is an important component of the Biden-Harris Administration's ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the U.S. and the [People's Republic of China] by maintaining open lines of communication with the PRC.

"During the talks, the two sides held a frank, in-depth and open discussion on a range of issues affecting the U.S.-PRC defense relationship. Both sides reaffirmed consensus to keep communication channels open. The U.S. side also made clear our commitment to uphold shared principles with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region."

President Joe Biden is overseeing what many have described as a strategic shift on the region, but some observers say the administration's approach lacks cohesion and consistency across departments. Among the clearer signals, however, is the need for more communication with China in order to avert miscalculations in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait.

At a monthly press conference in Beijing, China's Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian confirmed that Chase and Huang had spoken on August 19 and again this week. On both occasions, "the two sides exchanged in-depth views on relations between our two countries and two militaries as well as issues of common concern," he said, before adding a critique of Washington.

"China has expressed many times our principles for developing relations between our two militaries," Wu said. "That is, China's sovereignty, dignity and core interests cannot be infringed upon."

He added: "The U.S. has serious problems in its perception of itself, China and the world today. This is the root cause of the current difficult situation facing relations between the two countries and two militaries."

This week's dialogue took place two weeks after the announcement of the AUKUS defense partnership between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. China has expressed strong reservations about the pact.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that the international community would remain "vigilant" about AUKUS and the proposal to provide Australia's navy with its first fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Hua said the plan could lead to "the resurgence of a Cold War" and encourage countries to "accelerate the development of military capacities," including those of a nuclear nature.

U.S., China Hold Talks to Calm Tensions
President Xi Jinping of China reviews troops at a garrison of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong on June 30, 2017. Defense officials from Beijing and Washington held a video conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images