China, US militaries hold a new round of maritime military safety consultation in Hawaii, engage in candid and constructive exchange
Published: Apr 06, 2024 10:00 AM
China-US Graphic: GT

China-US Graphic: GT

The Chinese and American militaries held two-day working-level talks in Hawaii, which China's Ministry of National Defense (MOD) described on Saturday as candid and constructive. This marks the first time in two years that China and the US have held a meeting under the military maritime consultative mechanism, signaling the restart of the China-US military maritime security dialogue. 

From Wednesday to Thursday, the militaries of the two sides held the China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) Working Group meeting in Hawaii, aiming to promote the healthy, stable, and sustainable development of military relations between the two nations, according to a readout released by the MOD.  

On the basis of equality and respect, the two sides had a candid and constructive exchange on the current maritime and air safety situation between China and the US, the ministry said. 

The meeting also assessed the implementation of the China-US Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters since the MMCA meeting in 2021 and discussed measures to improve maritime military security between the two countries, it noted. 

Some US media reported that the meeting included personnel from the Indo-Pacific Command, the US Pacific Fleet, and the US Pacific Air Forces, which is the first time since 2019 that the meeting was held in person. The meeting included about 18 senior military and civilian officials from each side, according to media reports. 

The most recent China-US MMCA meeting took place from December 15 to 17, 2021, in the form of a video conference. 

In August 2022, in response to then US house speaker Nancy Pelosi's provocative visit to China's Taiwan region despite strong opposition and solemn representations from Beijing, China announced eight countermeasures, including the cancellation of the China-US MMCA meeting among three military-related measures. 

In November 2023, during a summit meeting between the leaders of China and the US in San Francisco, both sides agreed to resume high-level military communications, working meetings between the defense departments of China and the US, the MMCA meetings, and dialogues between military leaders of both nations, based on equality and respect.

Zhang Junshe, a Chinese military expert, told the Global Times on Saturday that holding this meeting is an important action for the Chinese and American militaries to implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, and to promote the healthy, stable, and sustainable development of military relations between the two countries.

The resumption of the MMCA meeting marks the gradual and comprehensive restoration of communication at the mechanism level between the Chinese and American militaries, another military expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Global Times on Saturday. 

Previously, from January 8 to 9, 2024, China and the US held the 17th China-US Defense Policy Coordination Talks in Washington DC. 

During the latest MMCA meeting, the Chinese side pointed out that the safety of ships and aircraft is inseparable from national security, and China firmly opposes any actions that endanger China's sovereignty and security under the pretext of freedom of navigation and overflight, according to the MOD readout. 

The Chinese military will continue to respond to all dangerous provocations in accordance with the law and regulations, resolutely safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and maintain regional peace, stability, and prosperity, it said. 

The US military said in a statement that officials from both countries "reviewed safety-related events over the last few years, and discussed sustaining maritime and aviation operational safety and professionalism," according to Reuters. 

Army Colonel  Ian Francis, the head of the US delegation, was quoted as saying in US media reports that "open, direct, and clear communications with the PLA [Chinese People's Liberation Army] - and with all other military forces in the region - is of utmost importance to avoid accidents and miscommunication."

The above-quoted anonymous Chinese military expert said that from the messages released by both sides, it is clear that both China and the US realize the importance of managing crises in the air and at sea and both have a strong willingness to control them. 

"In the Chinese press release, which mentions 'candid and constructive exchanges,' this especially shows that China has fully stated its position, drawn its bottom line, and set its red lines," he said. "The best way for the US to manage crises is not to cross these lines."

Based on the statements of the US participants in the meeting, military relations are moving from a high level of uncertainty toward a manageable direction, experts said. 

Previous tensions between the Chinese and American militaries were unilaterally caused by the US side, which exacerbated the tensions in the Taiwan Straits and led to the interruption of institutionalized military communication and exchanges, the anonymous military expert said, who also said he hopes the US will do more to facilitate mutual advancement between the two militaries.

From the Chinese press release, it is evident that China has expressed its concerns to the US regarding the "freedom of navigation operations" and close reconnaissance activities conducted by US ships and aircraft near China under the pretext of "freedom of navigation and overflight" in recent years, and China has requested that the US stop such actions in the future, some experts said. 

"For a long time, the so-called freedom of navigation operations carried out by the US near the islands and reefs in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Straits, as well as the extensive and frequent close reconnaissance activities along China's coast, have severely endangered China's national security," Zhang said.

The Chinese military's ships and aircraft must take necessary measures such as tracking, monitoring, and expulsion. The dangerous provocations by the US could lead to close encounters between the two sides' ships and aircraft, which are highly likely to result in maritime and aerial safety incidents, he said. 

The expert also emphasized that the root cause of the safety issues between Chinese and American ships and aircraft lies with the US, and this has been a recurring topic in the China-US military security consultation mechanism meetings. 

China places high importance on the safety of Chinese and American ships and aircraft. As long as US ships and aircraft stop carrying out dangerous provocations that endanger China's national security, close encounters between the two sides' ships and aircraft can be avoided, thereby preventing maritime and aerial safety incidents, Zhang said.