Chinese military officials visit Pentagon for first time in 4 years

Chinese military officials visit Pentagon for first time in 4 years

Top U.S. and Chinese defense officials met face-to-face at the Pentagon Monday and Tuesday for the first time since January 2020, a renewal of what had been a yearly meeting to discuss operations and other military-to-military contacts.

The meeting comes amid a slight thaw in relations between Washington and Beijing, which had seen months go by without any contacts between military or political leaders, heightening fears of a confrontation between the two military and economic powerhouses.

The talks were led by the Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China Michael Chase and Maj. Gen. Song Yanchao, deputy director of China’s Central Military Commission’s office for international military cooperation.

During the two days of talks the two sides discussed defense relations and the U.S. side “highlighted the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication,” according to a readout provided by DOD spokesperson Lt. Col. Martin Meiners.

The U.S. side also reiterated the U.S. “will continue to fly, sail and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows” and addressed “repeated PRC harassment against lawfully operating Philippine vessels in the South China Sea” as well as Washington’s commitment to its decadeslong Taiwan policy.

The Chinese delegation’s visit to Washington follows the meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in California in November, followed in December by Chair of the Joint Chiefs Gen. CQ Brown’s conversation with his counterpart, People’s Liberation Army Gen. Liu Zhenli.

The once-yearly meetings, known as the U.S.-PRC Defense Policy Coordination Talks, were held virtually in 2021 but were canceled in 2023 by China in protest of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s August 2022 trip to Taiwan. China shut down all talks between military officials after that visit, and launched its largest live-fire drills in decades, including launching a missile over the island.

“These are deputy-level policy discussions between DOD officials and counterparts from the PRC, about the US-PRC defense relationship,” a senior defense official told reporters in a briefing before the meetings. “They are an opportunity for us to be frank and candid with the PRC about how we see the relationship and any concerns that we have.” The official was granted anonymity in order to discuss sensitive internal issues.

The lack of communication between military leaders from the two countries stoked fears of military miscalculation in the Indo-Pacific region, where China is flexing its naval muscles in the South China Sea, sending ships to harass the Philippine navy, and fighter planes to trail and buzz American surveillance planes in the region.

“The bottom line is that we’re going to keep working to open the lines of communication because they’re important for preventing competition from veering into conflict,” the defense official said.

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