US, China top military officials hold first talks in more than a year

General Charles Q Brown, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stresses need for dialogue to avoid miscalculations in talks with PLA’s General Liu Zhenli.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q Brown
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Charles Q Brown [File: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images via AFP]

The top military officer from the United States has held a virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart, the Pentagon said, in the first such conversation in more than a year.

Beijing stopped such high-level talks after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited self-ruled Taiwan in August 2022.

The two countries’ leaders finally agreed to resume them when they met last month.

US Air Force General Charles Q Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Liu Zhenli of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) touched on “a number of global and regional security issues” during their online discussion, Brown’s office said in a statement.

Liu is the chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the military body responsible for China’s combat operations and planning.

Brown “discussed the importance of working together to responsibly manage competition, avoid miscalculations and maintain open and direct lines of communication,” spokesman Captain Jereal Dorsey said in a statement.

“General Brown reiterated the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.”

Brown said last month he had sent an introductory letter to Liu saying he was open to meeting.

Liu said the key for the US and China to develop a healthy, stable and sustainable military-to-military relationship was for the US to have a “correct understanding of China”, according to a Chinese defence ministry statement that was released late on Thursday.

US officials have cautioned that even with some restoration of military communications, it was likely to take some time to develop a functional dialogue between the two sides who remain at odds over a range of issues from Taiwan to the South China Sea and trade.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has said it is willing to use force in order to achieve its aims.

US President Joe Biden met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California in November with the two men agreeing to restore military-to-military communications as part of an effort to ease tensions.

Liu Zhenli of the Central Military Commission arrives at a forum in Beijing. He is wearing his uniform and surrounded by other people.
Liu has emerged as the top contender to replace China’s national defence minister, General Li Shangfu, who was dismissed in October [File: Florence Lo/Pool via Reuters]

Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder described Thursday’s call between Brown and Liu as a “positive development”, saying that the two sides were working to implement what had been announced by Xi and Biden.

“When you have two large militaries, it’s imperative that we keep lines of communication open in order to prevent miscalculation,” Ryder said.

During the talks, Liu also asked for the US to respect China’s territorial sovereignty, and expansive maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire sea under its so-called nine-dash line and has ignored a 2016 arbitral ruling that found it was without legal merit.

Tensions have risen this year, particularly with the Philippines, which has accused the Chinese coast guard and other Chinese vessels of dangerous actions at Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal.

Liu has emerged as the top contender to replace China’s national defence minister, General Li Shangfu, who was fired in October two months after disappearing from public view.

Li was placed under US sanctions in 2018 and had snubbed Washington’s efforts to resume contact.

While high-level military-to-military ties between the US and China had been cut off, other top US officials were still in communication with Beijing, and lower-level military talks continued.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies