According to a report from Reuters, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has been unable to speak with China’s top military official despite multiple attempts to set up talks.
Tensions have been high between the militaries of the two nations due to the increased US military activity in sensitive areas like the South China Sea. US warships are regularly patrolling the disputed waters and frequently shadow Chinese ships. US spy planes are also constantly buzzing near China’s coast.
An unnamed US official told Reuters that there was a debate within the Biden administration about whether Austin should speak with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe or the vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, Xu Qiliang. Xu is a member of China’s politburo and is said to have more influence with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
US officials told the Financial Times that Austin had made three requests to speak with Xu, but China has decided not to engage. While a high-level military meeting has not happened between the two countries during the Biden administration, there has been communication between the armed forces at lower levels.
Beijing certainly has reasons to be hesitant to engage with Austin. In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a high-level meeting with China’s top diplomats in Alaska. Blinken opened the talks by accusing China of threatening the "rules-based order," and things quickly fell apart from there.
The rhetoric out of the Biden administration has been harsh when it comes to Beijing, and the Pentagon has identified China as the top "pacing threat" facing the US military. In his first address to Congress, President Biden said the US was in a competition with China to "win the 21st century."
He also said that he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US will militarize the Indo-Pacific "just as we do with NATO in Europe."