Despite repeated attempts the U.S. defense secretary has so far been unable to talk to the Chinese military brass

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has so far been unable to speak with top Chinese generals despite repeated attempts, Defense Department officials said Friday (May 21).

Tensions are growing between the United States and China, with conflicts evident in everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to military activities in the South China Sea.

Despite the tensions and heated rhetoric between the two countries, U.S. military officials have long sought to maintain open lines of communication with their Chinese counterparts to mitigate potential contingencies or deal with incidents.

The Reuters report quoted a U.S. Defense Department official as saying, “There’s no question that military relations are very tense. It’s hard to know how much that reflects that pressure or whether it’s just Chinese stubbornness.”

The Defense Department official, who declined to be named, said, “But we certainly want to have a dialogue. We just want to make sure we’re having the appropriate dialogue.”

Another U.S. official told Reuters that President Biden’s administration is in dialogue over whether Austin should speak with Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, or with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.

Xu Qiliang is considered to have more power and more influence over Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

Austin had an opportunity to meet with Wei Fenghe later this month in Singapore during a meeting of the region’s defense ministers, but the event was canceled because of the New Crown pneumonia pandemic.

The Pentagon’s unsuccessful engagement with the Chinese was first reported by the Financial Times.

Late last year, senior U.S. and Chinese defense officials held talks on crisis communications.

The U.S. and China have not had a high-level military dialogue since President Biden took office in January, but senior diplomats from both countries met in Alaska in March. Those talks were fraught with resentment and no diplomatic breakthroughs were achieved.