Pentagon chiefs’ calls to China go unanswered during Taiwan crisis

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Top Chinese military officials failed to return multiple calls from their US counterparts this week as a crisis erupted in the Pacific following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, according to three people with knowledge of the attempts.

Beijing’s ghosting of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley comes as China continues to launch missiles and position warships and planes in unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan. Officials and experts say China’s silence is a short-sighted and reckless move that increases the risk of escalation in an already tense situation.

“As the [Chinese military]If we operate more aggressively, and with greater frequency closer to U.S. armed forces, we would need these mechanisms even more to promote a safe work environment,” said Randy Schriver, who served as the Pentagon’s top official for Asia in the Trump administration. -policy. .

US military leaders strive to maintain open lines of communication, even with potential adversaries such as China, to avoid accidents and other miscalculations that could culminate in full-scale conflict.

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But the last conversation Milley had with his Chinese counterpart, Joint Staff Chief General Li Zuocheng, was on July 7, the Pentagon said. The two spoke via secure video conference call about the need to maintain open lines of communication and reduce risk, according to a readout from Milley’s office. Austin, meanwhile, met in person in June with Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

“The secretary has repeatedly stressed the importance of fully open lines of communication with China’s defense leaders to ensure we can avoid miscalculations, and that remains true,” Todd Breasseale, acting Pentagon press secretary, told POLITICO in an email.

China announced Friday that it was suspending certain official dialogues between senior US military commanders, including the regional commanders, as well as talks about maritime security. The announcement does not specifically apply to Austin and Milley’s counterparts, and officials said they are still open to communication between those leaders.

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White House spokesman John Kirby said that while the announcement “doesn’t completely rule out senior members of our military’s ability to talk,” the risk of an accident does increase.

“These lines of communication are actually important in helping you reduce the risk of miscalculations and misconceptions,” Kirby said Friday. “You have so much military hardware in limited spaces. It’s good, especially now, to have those lines of communication open.”

China is conducting military exercises around Taiwan that have broken multiple precedents and fundamentally changed the status quo in the region. Beijing launched missiles into Taiwan territory this week, including at least one that appears to have flown over the island, and has sorted ships and planes across the median line separating Taiwan’s territorial waters from mainland China.

The US, which does not officially recognize Taiwan’s independence but does sell weapons to the island, wants to avoid a situation like the one on April 1, 2001, when a US Navy EP-3 plane and a Chinese J-8 fighter collided with each other. air, giving rise to an international dispute.

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The risk of such an incident is increasing. China has recently ramped up aggressive activity in the Pacific, especially the East and South China seas, alarming US officials. Chinese planes and ships have buzzed and harassed American and Allied pilots, even conducting an “unsafe” interception with a special American C-130 aircraft in June.

Still, the cancellation of military dialogue is significant, but not unprecedented, experts said.

“Historically, this is definitely part of the playbook,” Schriver said. “Mil-mil [communications] historically on the chopping block if we have problems with China.”

But Kirby denounced the move as “irresponsible” at a time of escalating tensions.

“We believe that cutting off military communications channels at any level, magnitude and in times of crisis is irresponsible,” Kirby said.

The report that Pentagon chiefs’ calls to China go unanswered during the Taiwan crisis appeared first on Politico.

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