US-China defense talks resume as two sides meet in Washington

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WASHINGTON — Senior Chinese military officials visited Washington this week for two days of meetings with their American counterparts — the latest communication channel between the two nations to restart after more than a yearlong lapse.

The meetings — officially called the Defense Policy Coordination Talks, or DPCT — offered a chance for each country to share concerns and schedule other meetings throughout the year.

“They’re an opportunity for us to be frank and candid with the PRC about how we see the relationship and any concerns that we have,” said a senior American defense official, who spoke with reporters last week on the condition of anonymity.

Starting Jan. 8, the forum occurred for the first time since 2021, after China severed military talks following former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. China’s government considers Taiwan a rogue province that will one-day reunite with the mainland.

Since then, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has grown more aggressive around the Taiwan Strait and across the region. In the last two years, PLA jets have buzzed past American aircraft some 180 times, according to the Pentagon. Whereas Chinese ships and planes used to carefully avoid crossing the midline between the mainland and Taiwan, since Pelosi’s visit they now regularly do so.

This change in behavior added to the urgency with which Pentagon officials called for the two militaries to start talking again.

President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed while meeting in San Francisco late last year to resume senior-level military communications. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown officially reopened talks after speaking with PLA Gen. Liu Zhenli, his Chinese counterpart, in December.

This week will be the 17th DPCT, which has historically been held annually, alternating between Beijing and Washington.

On the American side were Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China, Taiwan and Mongolia Michael Chase, leading a team mostly made up of Pentagon officials. Major Gen. Song Yanchao, the Deputy Director of the China’s Central Military Commission’s Office for International Military Cooperation, will lead the Chinese delegation.

A quarter of the meetings focused on scheduling other talks while the rest covered policy, the official said.

In a readout, the Pentagon said that the delegations discussed operational safety, the war in Ukraine, recent behavior from North Korea and U.S. policy toward Taiwan, among other topics.

The next channel to resume will likely be the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings, during which the two countries’ navies discuss operating near each other safely, the official said.

Despite the talks restarting, the official acknowledged China has a history of cutting off communication to signal displeasure, and there’s nothing preventing that from happening again.

“We’re … clear-eyed about the prospects in that respect,” the official said.

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

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