Dropping US-China military talks increases risk of dangerous moments, analysts and officials say

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By Greg Torode

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s severing of some of its few communications links with the US military raises the risk of an unintended escalation of tensions over Taiwan at a critical time, according to security analysts, diplomats and US officials.

China on Friday called off scheduled formal talks regarding theater-level commandos, defense policy coordination and military maritime consultations as part of its retaliation against US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week.

In an editorial on Saturday, the People’s Daily of the Communist Party described the response, along with sanctions against Pelosi and her family, as “effective measures that fully demonstrate China’s full determination and ability to protect national unity and .. . sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Christopher Twomey, a security scientist at the US Naval Postgraduate School in California, told Reuters that the disconnection of communications was worrisome as he believed it was the start of another Taiwan crisis.

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China fired ballistic missiles over Taipei as part of four days of unprecedented military exercises around the island it claims as its property – exercises ending at noon on Sunday.

“This increased density of forces, in the context of an intensification of the crisis, raises the prospect of unintended escalation that neither side wants,” Twomey said in a personal capacity.

“That’s exactly the time when you’d like to have more opportunities to talk to the other side…Losing those channels significantly reduces the two sides’ ability to de-conflict the armed forces as various exercises and operations go on.”

As Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones maneuver around Taiwan, at least four powerful US ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli and the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam lie east of Taiwan, Reuters has confirmed.

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DO NOT TAKE CALLS

Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based security analyst with the United States’ Germany Marshall Fund, said the outlook more broadly was “extremely low for discussions on mitigation measures or stability.”

Over time, she said she expected the specific talks called off this week to resume, but “at this point, China needs to show strength and determination.”

A US official, who wishes to remain anonymous, said Chinese officials had not responded to calls from senior Pentagon officials this week, but that this was seen as China showing displeasure with Pelosi’s trip rather than cutting the channel between senior defense officials including US defense. Secretary Lloyd Austin. [L1N2ZH19D]

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Austin urged better communication between the rival forces when he met Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue security meeting in Singapore in June.

Both Asian and Western diplomats said US military leaders have been pushing for more frequent theater-level command talks for some time, given China’s growing deployment in Asia, where the US Navy has traditionally been the dominant power.

The Pentagon said on Friday that China overreacted and that the United States was still open to establishing crisis communication mechanisms.

“Part of this overreaction has been to strictly limit its defense activities when a responsible state would recognize that we need them most right now,” acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said.

(Reporting by Greg Torode; additional reporting by Michael Martina and Idrees Ali in Washington; editing by Robert Birsel)

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