U.S. and China Top Military Officials Set to Meet Over Increasing Arms Race

Senior American and Chinese officials will meet virtually next month for much needed high-level talks between the two military powers, according to a report on Thursday.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said the Pentagon has been discussing a suitable format for the dialogue after a consensus was reached during November's summit between President Joe Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The Post said the talks would likely take place via secure telephone or a video conference, with dates in early January being considered. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will lead the meeting on the U.S. side.

According to the paper, the Defense Department will be hoping to connect Austin with Xu Qiliang and Wei Fenghe. The former is vice chair of the Central Military Commission headed by President Xi, and the latter is China's defense minister.

During the 3 1/2-hour Biden-Xi summit, both leaders agreed to maintain open lines of communication, with Biden warning that competition between the U.S. and China should not "veer into conflict." He has acknowledged that the rivalry carries inherent risks of an unintended military conflict.

The perennial issue of Taiwan, and especially increased U.S. support for its democratic government, is likely to be high on the agenda, as was the case during the Biden-Xi talks. Taipei is confident that longstanding American backing won't change, whatever happens next with U.S.-China relations. The Taiwanese leadership is also likely to be briefed before and after next month's planned dialogue.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon said it was having trouble engaging with China's top military leadership, Xu in particular. Beijing believes Wei is a more suitable counterpart for Austin, according to The Post.

Senior Biden officials including the White House's Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell have expressed concern about not being able to reach Xi's closest political and military advisers. China's currently accessible senior diplomats were "nowhere close" to Xi's inner circle, Campbell said in May. It was described as an obstacle that might hinder Xi's decision-making when it came to foreign affairs and especially military matters.

Arms Control

The Post reported that there is likely to be progress on arms control, coming at a crucial time when both countries appear to be engaging in an arms race in conventional forces, hypersonic and nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon has confirmed reports in the Financial Times of two Chinese hypersonic weapons tests this summer. Austin said that "increases tensions in the region."

The Hong Kong newspaper cited Chinese sources as saying Beijing wasn't willing to address arms control with the U.S. on a bilateral basis, and that it would require the inclusion of Russia in any new arms treaty.

While President Biden has told Americans to expect "extreme competition" between the U.S. and China, The Post said tensions have decreased in recent months.

"The PLA's opposition to U.S. warships' Taiwan Strait transits has been toned down," a source told the paper. "They found the warships just sailed through international waters on a route that saved about a third of their journey from the South China Sea to their base in Japan."

Lloyd Austin to Meet China's Military Leadership
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan at the Rayburn House Office building on Capitol Hill on September 29, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images