US, China hold military talks in Hawaii

pentagon — U.S. and Chinese defense officials met this week for the first time in nearly two years to talk about unsafe and aggressive incidents between the two militaries’ ships and aircraft in the Pacific region.

The talks, which ran from Wednesday through Thursday in Hawaii, mark the restart of a dialogue Beijing abruptly ended following then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its own.

Chinese officials have criticized U.S. support for Taiwan as interference.

U.S. officials said the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) working group reviewed safety-related events over the last few years and discussed ways to sustain operational safety and professionalism between China and the United States.

“We’ve observed a reduction in unsafe behavior between us and PLA [People’s Liberation Army] aircraft and vessels over the last several months, so we’re encouraged by that,” one U.S. official told reporters on the condition of anonymity because they lacked authorization to discuss the meetings before their conclusion.

“The United States will continue to operate safely and professionally in the Indo-Pacific wherever international law allows, and we take this responsibility seriously. Open, direct and clear communications with the PLA — and with all other military forces in the region — is of utmost importance to avoid accidents and miscommunication,” the head of the U.S. delegation, Army Colonel Ian Francis, said in a press release.

Last November U.S. President Joe Biden met with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. The first senior military-to-military contact since Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was made about a month later, when the top U.S. military officer, General CQ Brown, spoke with his Chinese counterpart in a video call.

Officials said this week’s meetings included about 18 senior officials from each side. 

Beijing has asserted its desire to control access to the South China Sea and bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary. Biden has said U.S. troops would defend the democratic island from attack.

Following Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022, China’s military has surged aggressive actions around the island — repeatedly crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait with its warships and aircraft — and firing missiles both over Taiwan and into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, testified in October 2023 that there had been more than 180 reckless intercepts of U.S. military aircraft by Chinese aircraft in the past two years, more intercepts than U.S. officials had seen in the entire decade before that.

“And when you take into account cases of coercive and risky PLA intercepts against other states, the number increases to nearly 300 cases against U.S., allied and partner aircraft over the last two years,” Ratner said.

In one of the instances, a Chinese pilot flew within 3 meters (9.8 feet) of a U.S. Air Force B-52 in international airspace over the South China Sea.

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