US, China discuss defense ties in key Pentagon meeting

China's new ambassador to the US, Xie Feng, addresses the media upon his arrival at JFK Airport in New York City, US on May 23, 2023.  Reuters/File
China’s new ambassador to the US, Xie Feng, addresses the media upon his arrival at JFK Airport on May 23, 2023 in New York City, US. Reuters/File

Chinese Ambassador Xie Feng made a significant visit to the Pentagon for security talks, highlighting a rare meeting between high-ranking officials from China and the United States.

The ambassador discussed defense ties and various international and regional security issues with US Assistant Secretary of Defense Eli Ratner. The talks lasted for about 90 minutes, indicating the importance of maintaining open lines of military communication between the two countries.

The meeting is being seen as a response to US concerns, although real progress will require more time and talks. China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately comment on the meeting.

The meeting at the Pentagon comes at a time when US-China relations are strained over national security matters, including Taiwan, US export restrictions on advanced technologies and China’s state-led industrial policies. The United States is making efforts to improve relations with China, with recent visits by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Climate Envoy John Kerry and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. However, Beijing has previously rebuffed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s efforts to hold a comprehensive meeting with his Chinese counterpart, and military communications have suffered setbacks.

Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy advisor, expressed frustration with China’s response to crisis management channels, saying, “When we have these conversations with them, they’re like: ‘If you don’t want a crisis, a simple The answer is..’ .get out.” The response appears to be rooted in China’s concerns about US sanctions, particularly Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu. Sun Yun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, suggested that lower-level Addressing sanctions on Li could be a condition for resuming military communications.

The visit of the Chinese Ambassador to the Pentagon is a rare occasion for engagement at the highest defense level between the two countries. Although this reflects a response to US concerns, real progress toward resolving the issues will require additional time and dialogue.

Strained US-China relations, including disagreements over Taiwan and technology, have hampered military communications. The importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the two countries was highlighted during the meeting. The issue of US sanctions on Chinese officials, particularly Defense Minister Li Shangfu, has been a point of contention, and addressing these sanctions could potentially facilitate further talks.


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