The U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an attempt to reach out to his Chinese counterpart through a special crisis line, hoping to ease tensions between the two nations. However, the effort failed as China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe declined the call, according to the Pentagon. China’s Defense Ministry stated that the call was declined due to the “improper atmosphere” for dialogue and exchange created by the U.S. after the downing of a giant Chinese balloon.
The lack of reliable crisis communication between the U.S. and China has been a frustration for American commanders for decades. Unlike the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, the absence of such communication raises concerns about the growing dangers in the U.S.-China relationship. The issue lies in the fundamental difference in the way China and the U.S. view the value and purpose of military-to-military hotlines, not in any technical shortfall of communication equipment.
China’s political system operates on slow, deliberate consultation by political leaders, leaving no room for real-time communication between rival generals. Chinese leaders are also suspicious of the U.S. notion of a hotline, viewing it as an American attempt to avoid consequences for U.S. provocations.
The difficulty of military-to-military crisis communication with China is concerning after US shoot down Chinese balloon, according to Assistant Secretary for Defense Ely Ratner. U.S. generals are continuing their efforts to open communication lines with their Chinese counterparts, but so far, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has not responded. Ratner accuses China of using communication channels as a tool to convey messages and express displeasure.
The resistance to military hotlines by China puts more pressure on President Joe Biden and his top security advisors to establish their own communication channels with top Chinese political officials. This is crucial in case military hotlines go unanswered in the future. As both the U.S. and Chinese militaries prepare for a possible confrontation over Taiwan, it’s only a matter of time before the next flare-up occurs. Without real-time communication between commanders, there’s a higher risk of a larger conflict.
President Biden has emphasized building communication lines with China to manage their differences responsibly. However, a relationship-building visit by the Secretary of State was cancelled after the transit of the Chinese balloon, which the U.S. claims was for espionage and China says was for meteorological research. The recent transit of the balloon and the U.S. military presence in the Philippines near China have added to the already high tensions between the two nations.