White House ‘eager’ to resume military talks with China

By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) -The United States and China are yet to resume the military-to-military talks their leaders agreed to at a splashy summit last month, according to the White House, which wants to jumpstart the discussions to lower tensions.

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House, told reporters aboard Air Force One that talks would “reduce miscalculation and misunderstanding.”

But he said the talks may not be happening because China has not replaced General Li Shangfu, its former defense minister, who was dismissed in October and was the counterpart of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“It’s my understanding that they haven’t been restored and part of that could be because they don’t have a minister of defense,” said Kirby. “We certainly urge them to designate somebody soon and we’re eager to get those [communications] going.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed last month at a closely watched California summit to resume such contacts, which were severed after then-House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited self-ruled Taiwan in August 2022. China claims sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan.

Taiwan said on Friday that 12 Chinese fighter jets and a suspected weather balloon had crossed the Taiwan Strait’s sensitive median line, in a ratcheting up of tensions about a month before the island’s presidential election.

Taiwan will hold the election on Jan. 13, a date Biden administration officials have been closely watching.

The Biden administration has said that it wants communications throughout the two countries’ militaries, including both senior leaders and commanders in specific geographic areas where conflicts happen.

The militaries of the U.S. and China have had a number of near-misses and acrimonious exchanges over the past year, from the Taiwan Strait to the South China Sea.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Grant McCool and Diane Craft)