Top US, Chinese defense officials haven’t spoken in 3 months
Bloomberg News March 1, 2023
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The top U.S. and Chinese defense officials haven’t spoken since November, the Pentagon said Tuesday, a sign of how recent strains over Taiwan and an alleged spy balloon have fractured communications between the world’s two most powerful armed forces.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last spoke to his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, on the margins of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations event in Cambodia on Nov. 22, according to Brigadier General Pat Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman.
The Pentagon “maintains regular contact with the PRC at numerous levels,” Ryder said.
That acknowledgment highlights just how much of a chilling effect that recent disputes — over the balloon, the issue of Taiwan and numerous other flashpoints — have strained ties and led to a communications breakdown. In early February, China rebuffed a US effort to arrange a call Austin had sought with Wei to address the balloon episode.
“Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this,” Ryder said at the time.
Last week, President Joe Biden expressed concern over the lack of communication, telling ABC News that it was important for “the two most powerful nations in the world to be able to resolve anything quickly so there is not a mistake made.”
The lack of communication between Austin and Wei follows a freeze in other high-level contacts. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a visit to Beijing after the administration announced it was tracking the balloon. A subsequent meeting with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, only further inflamed tensions, with China warning the US was intent on embarking on a new Cold War and the US warning China against supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The US spends more money on its military than any other country, with a budget of $773 billion for 2023. China is a distant second, with 2023 defense spending projected to be $229 billion.
Many military contacts were suspended after then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to restart much of that communication when they met in Bali, Indonesia in November, but the uproar over the balloon — which the US shot down after it drifted across the country — froze those efforts.
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