Chinese Hotline Problem Reported

( For the first time since Joe Biden took office, the Pentagon and China’s People’s Liberation Army initiated their first direct contact in late August. That meeting, via a video call over the US/PRC Defense Telephone Link, focused on “maintaining open channels of communications” between the two militaries.

While it is a step, some former senior US military officials warn that a better, more regular means of communication are necessary to head off any possible future confrontation between Chinese and US forces in the Indo-Pacific region.

In August Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a warning about the worsening frictions between the US and China in the South China Sea. He said that any potential US/China military conflict in the region would have “serious global consequences” for security and commerce.

These worsening frictions stem from China’s increasingly aggressive position toward the island of Taiwan as well as the CCP’s refusal to comply with the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague which rejected China’s claims of sovereignty over vast expanses of the South China Sea.

With tensions rising, a number of high ranking US military personnel and Pentagon officials have grown concerned over the lack of diplomatic tools to head off a potential conflict between the US and China.

In July, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin expressed this concern when he voiced his commitment to “stronger crisis communications with the People’s Liberation Army.”

That communications gap was likely heightened by Austin’s inability to secure a meeting with China’s top uniformed officer. His outreach reflects his view that the militaries of China and the United States need a better and faster system of communication that would allow them to prevent possible incidents.

According to Pentagon spokesman John Supple, such mechanisms of communication are necessary “to prevent a spiral into crisis.”

Supple said that the 2008 agreement between the Pentagon and China’s Defense Ministry to establish a secure bilateral Defense Telephone Link includes “crisis situation” communications guidelines. However, these rarely-used hotlines with spotty track records are not sufficient in the face of the increasing potential for unseen incidents in the Pacific.

The former commander of the US Pacific Fleet, retired Admiral Scott Swift believes the solution is a drastic rethinking of current bilateral military crisis communications in order to avoid potentially disastrous “unintended consequences” stemming from an incident between US and Chinese forces in the Pacific.