At a regular press conference on May 25, Defense Department spokesman John F. Kirby was asked once again whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had tried to speak with his Chinese military counterpart on three occasions, but the other side did not answer the phone. Instead of directly admitting or denying it, Kirby said, “Of course we want to talk to our counterparts in Beijing, and we’re still working to confirm exactly how that conversation is going. This is an indirect confirmation that the U.S. military has attempted to communicate with the top brass of the Chinese Communist Party, but has been unsuccessful.
Earlier, on May 21, the Financial Times reported, citing several U.S. Defense Department officials, that Secretary Austin had invited three times to speak with Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the CCP’s Military Commission, a member of the Politburo, and the highest-ranking CCP officer, but had been declined. In addition, General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has not been able to speak with his Chinese counterpart since early January.
At a time when the Biden administration and some Western governments are becoming increasingly tough on Beijing, why is the U.S. military communicating with the Beijing military? And made three efforts to do so? According to reports, the U.S. military proposed the dialogue because the Biden administration felt it was important for Austin to speak with Xu Qiliang in light of recent escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, frequent moves by the Chinese Communist Party military near Taiwan, and increasing contact between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, especially in the South China Sea.
How important is the dialogue? Apparently it is very high, and the important reason why the U.S. side is eager to talk is probably because the actions of the Chinese Communist Party’s military in the above-mentioned area have tended to be serious, and may even have touched the U.S. red line. Some sources say that it is because the Chinese Communist Navy and Air Force have launched invasion operations near Taiwan. Therefore, the purpose of the dialogue should be warning-based so that potential conflicts can be de-escalated or any accidents can be handled.
In March, the Nikkei Asian Review website published an analysis by retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, the 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, identifying what actions of the Chinese Communist Party are considered to have crossed the “red line” and describing the future U.S. military strategy for operations against the Chinese Communist Party in the Pacific. The article also sets out a strategy for future U.S. military operations against the CCP in the Pacific. This could well be seen as the attitude of the U.S. military.
The “red lines” listed include: any nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons action by the CCP or North Korea against the United States or its allies; any military attack by the CCP on Taiwan or its offshore islands, including an economic blockade or major cyber attack on Taiwan’s public infrastructure and institutions; any attack by the CCP on Japanese forces defending the Japanese Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands) and their surrounding East China Sea. (Diaoyu Islands) and its surrounding East China Sea Exclusive Economic Zone; any significant hostile actions by the CCP in the South China Sea to further occupy and militarize surrounding islands, to show off force to deter other neighboring countries, or to prevent U.S. and its allied forces from conducting free navigation at sea; and any attacks by the CCP on the sovereign territories or military installations of U.S. allies.
It can be said that the U.S. clear red line is a warning to Beijing not to act rashly and not to hit the stone with an egg, or it will pay a painful price. And the Chinese Communist Party’s recent actions in India, the South China Sea and around Taiwan may be touching the U.S. red line. Attempts by the U.S. military brass to call Beijing are supposed to follow the rhythm of prior courtesy, i.e., advance warning.
Such a rhythm was seen in 1999. When the U.S. bombed the Chinese Communist embassy in Yugoslavia, three journalists died explicitly, but in fact more than a dozen Chinese Communist military experts died, and it was they who helped build the Mi-wave radar system in Serbia and Montenegro and enabled the FRY army to successfully shoot down the then most advanced U.S. F-117 stealth fighter, and thus offended the U.S. and NATO.
Before the U.S. ordered the bombing, the U.S. had repeatedly asked the Chinese Communist Party through diplomatic channels to give up its support for the FRY, and issued a warning of “bombing if it does not stop”. Clinton personally called Jiang Zemin to issue an ultimatum, but Jiang ignored the warning and insisted on supporting the alliance. Eventually, after several warnings failed, the enraged U.S. fired precision-guided missiles at the embassy, directly targeting the Chinese military experts. Now that the U.S. has issued another warning, who can guarantee that a similar situation will not occur?
Undoubtedly, Xu Qiliang and other military brass are well aware of the Chinese Communist military’s military actions in India, in the South China Sea, and in the Taiwan Strait. So, why do they refuse to talk to the U.S. side? The reason given by the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times is that “the U.S. side broke diplomatic protocol to make excessive demands on China” and is “another manifestation of the U.S. desire to change the rules”; in addition, the U.S. Pentagon hopes to use this to frame the Chinese Communist Party and create “In addition, the Pentagon hopes to blame the Chinese Communist Party and create the illusion that “China is to blame for the military tensions between China and the United States.
In Beijing’s view, the target of the Austin dialogue should be the Chinese Communist Party’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, not Xu Qiliang, otherwise it is not reciprocal. The reason given by the Chinese Communist Party is far-fetched. It is well known that the U.S. defense secretary ranks fourth in the cabinet, while the CCP defense secretary does not have much power at all in the CCP system and is not listed in the 25-member Politburo, the CCP’s highest power body; Xu Qiliang, the vice chairman who is second only to Xi Jinping, the chairman of the Central Military Commission, is significantly higher in the CCP’s political and military system than the defense secretary. The Chinese Communist Party is well aware of this, having met with Xu Qiliang in 2018 during a visit to China by then-Defense Secretary Mattis of the Trump administration.
As for the so-called blame on the Chinese Communist Party and the creation of “Sino-U.S. military tensions on the Chinese side,” the Chinese Communist Party is talking out of its ass. If the Chinese Communist Party does not touch the red line of the United States, how can there be military tensions between the United States and China?
Since the excuse is very poor, it is worth thinking about the real reason why Xu Qiliang and other military executives are reluctant to face the U.S. military. Is it because they feel they are at a disadvantage? Not confident? Or are they afraid to accept a warning or ultimatum from the U.S.? Or is this a way to give the U.S. more leverage in future negotiations?
But no matter how the Chinese Communist Party reacts, the U.S. military’s refusal to talk to the outside world is telling Americans and the world that the U.S. has done its best to warn in advance that if the U.S. takes some kind of action, the responsibility lies with the Chinese Communist Party, and that the U.S. military is ready to crack down on the Chinese Communist Party. Recently, there was another piece of bad news for Beijing: the new U.S. defense budget plans to increase spending on deterrence against the Chinese Communist Party and to increase the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons and future warfare capabilities. Will Beijing continue to be bent on the same course?