The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs spoke with his Chinese counterpart Thursday and discussed ways to maintain open communication and avoid miscalculations. It was the first time that senior military officers from the U.S. and China have spoken since July 2022 — which was just before military contacts were severed over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
The U.S. said the call was a sign that military ties are starting to return to normal, though other areas remain a source of increasing strain between Washington and Beijing.
Talks come amid China’s aggressive conduct in the Pacific
Military communications resumed following a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in November. The Wall Street Journal said it’s a sign that the countries “are trying to sustain the positive momentum” after 16 months of fractured military ties that saw China conduct more than 180 maneuvers and intercepts around U.S. ships and aircraft that Pentagon officials described as “risky” and “coercive behavior.” Politico noted the communication can be “an essential tool for deconfliction in the Pacific,” especially in the South China Sea, where China has recently become more aggressive toward Philippine vessels.
‘Bear hug’ on the horizon?
Relations between the U.S. and China will continue to thaw in 2024, NYU professor Scott Galloway predicted on his Pivot podcast. With inflation still a concern in the U.S., and China facing an economic downturn, the fastest way for both countries to renew economic growth is “for the two to kiss and make up,” Galloway said. “I think there’s going to be a new bear hug. … The incentives are lining up for both parties to put their differences aside.”
Rosy U.S.-China relations not guaranteed
Other factors still threaten the possibility of reconciliation. Competition with China — including concerns around TikTok, the security of Taiwan, and semiconductor chips — is sure to be a hot topic in the 2024 presidential race. Biden is considering raising tariffs on some Chinese goods including electric vehicles, The Wall Street Journal reported, as a way “to signal he is tough on China” going into 2024. Satellite imagery also suggests China is building the capability to test nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported. But experts said China may wait and see what other nuclear powers do before conducting its own tests.