The United States and Chinese armed forces held a joint meeting to discuss how they would maintain communication in the event of a crisis – the first such interaction of its kind as the two countries continue to issue warnings just days before the U.S. presidential election.
The Pentagon announced on Thursday that representatives of the U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Staff and Indo-Pacific Command met virtually with members of the Bureau of International Military Cooperation of the Central Military Commission of China, its Joint Staff Division and the Southern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army to convene the first Crisis Communications Task Force, a two-day event that began on Wednesday.
The goal, the statement said, was to build “mutual understanding” between the two rivals based “on the principles of crisis prevention and management and risk reduction for the armed forces.
“Both sides agreed that it is important to establish mechanisms for timely communication during a crisis,” the declaration said, “and that it is necessary to maintain regular channels of communication to prevent crises and conduct post-crisis assessment.
The meeting was also discussed by the Chinese Ministry of Defense on Thursday, where the spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Wu Qian stressed the importance of improving the strained relations between the two nations, which Beijing is ready to work towards, he said.
“China is ready to continue to uphold the principles of freedom of conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, win-win cooperation and strive to promote the development of China-US relations along the path of coordination, cooperation and stability,” Wu Qian told reporters in Beijing.
He hoped that the Pentagon would follow this example.
“It is hoped that the U.S. and China will meet each other halfway, reduce hostilities, refrain from provocation, strengthen communication, manage risks and play a constructive role in the stable development of relations between the two military forces,” Wu added.
And while announcing further interactions planned for the rest of the year, he also issued a strong warning in response to unspecified reports in the U.S. media that President Donald Trump’s administration may use MQ-9 Reaper drones against China-controlled islands in the South China Sea to influence the election in favor of the incumbent.
Wu said he had assurances from the Pentagon that such a scenario was not in the works, but warned: “Should anyone dare to fuel a conflict at sea, the Chinese side will strike back resolutely to protect their national sovereignty and security interests.
Wu also echoed the criticism voiced by Chinese State Department spokesman Wang Wenbin the day before, commenting on the remarks of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who, during a recent bilateral ministerial meeting in New Delhi, emphasized the joint efforts with India to counter China. Wu described this as part of a “Cold War mentality and a zero-sum game”.
The US signed the latest of several defense agreements with India, the only other member of the Quadripartite Security Dialogue without a formal alliance with Washington. The other member states are Australia and Japan; they are all, together with India, involved in growing tensions with China.
The four countries will conduct naval exercises together for the first time during next month’s Malabar Naval Exercises.
Esper has described China and Russia as the Pentagon’s “main competitors” and is trying to level the nations against them in steps that have brought Beijing and Moscow closer together.
In his own press conference on Thursday, Wang defended China on the diplomatic front. He accused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of “infiltrating” U.S. society through the Communist Party of China’s United Front Work Department and described the National Association for China’s Peaceful Unification as a foreign mission.
“We advise Pompeo and his ilk to stop the lies and sabotage of Sino-US relations and not to go further and further down the wrong path,” Wang said.
However, in his own remarks on Wednesday, the chief U.S. diplomat said that the State Department’s steps will help “bring us one step closer to a relationship with the People’s Republic of China based on transparency and reciprocity.