The two global superpowers have been on brink of conflict – and this was not helped by an an incident in which reportedly China intercepted US combat ships in Beijing waters. This is amid a trade war between the two nations – as well as China believing that the US covertly backed protestors in Hong Kong. So tensions have started to mount between the pair in the South China Sea.
In December, Generals Mark Miller and Li Zuocheng reportedly held a phone call to try and avoid any conflict.
The conversation was described as a courtesy call, where the two parties shared a mutual concern over the escalating tensions.
According to the Pentagon, the pair vowed to explore the “opportunity to discuss building a constructive and results-oriented defence relationship.”
“The two military leaders agreed on the value of a productive dialogue, effectively managing differences and cooperation on areas of common ground,” said the Pentagon.
Recent strategy papers from the Pentagon identified China as a strategic rival, both in the South China Sea, among other areas of Asia.
A 2018 paper labelled China as a “revisionist power” – and one that “seeks to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”
Over the summer, the US formed a new job – the deputy assistant secretary of defence for China.
The office will aim to maintain the US’s military relationship with China, with it reported that China military officials were hopeful it could be a “stabilising force.”
Last summer, a Chinese defence white paper worryingly acknowledged that the country saw the US as an aggressive and destabilising force in Asia.
Milley had before been sent to defuse tensions with China, when in 2016. the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled against the legalities of China’s claims to the sea.
This case was started by a key US ally and the officials in the Philippines, all with full support of the US and other superpowers.
Senior officials in the US were determined to prevent any escalation which could develop from arbitral ruling.
The administration of then-president Barack Obama called on China to abide by the ruling.
President Donald Trump is approaching the election season, and so the Pentagon are trying to increase their naval presence while keeping China in line.
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The discussion the two military chefs had was done shortly after China put a ban on US war ships from docking in Hong Kong.
It is thought this was done in retaliation to the Trump’s signing of the Human Rights and Democracy Act, in lieu of China’s request for the US to keep out of domestic affairs.
This measure has been seen by some as the country being perceived as the same fodder of those taking part in anti-government protests.
According to the PLA, the phone call “means military ties between the PLA and their American counterparts will remain stable even though [China] banned American warships and aircraft from making port visits in Hong Kong.”
“The ban on port calls is just a diplomatic and political gesture to pacify the Chinese public after Trump signed the Hong Kong bill. The PLA doesn’t really want to fight with the Americans,” the same source told the South China Morning Post.
The Pentagon had even invited China to attend the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, even though they had concerns about possible espionage and maybe even illegal surveillance activities from China.
The hope is now the two parties will attempt to find middle-ground over the situation in the South China Sea.
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