China and US agree to top military talks to head off close armed encounters

New mechanism between Chinese and US armed forces could ease Beijing’s suspicions about US moves, analyst says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 7:54pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 11:24pm

The armed forces of China and the United States will set up a new dialogue mechanism as a further step to minimise military confrontation.

President Xi Jinping said both sides should make full use of the soon-to-be-established dialogue between the joint staffs of the two countries’ armed forces.

Both militaries should also “improve the existing notification mechanism on military action and the code of unexpected encounters between their navies and air forces”, state-run Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

Xi said military relations were an important part of Sino-US ties, and their high-level exchanges should continue.

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Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator, said there should be better consultations between the two armed forces.

Ni said greater communication could reduce China’s concerns about US military action.

On Thursday, while Xi and Trump were having dinner, the United States launched an air strike against Syria.

Trump and his officials have also warned that the US is prepared to take unilateral action against North Korea, raising the risk of US military intervention to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

“If the US really wants to take military action against North Korea, the forces of the US and China can use the dialogue mechanism to communicate first,” Ni said.

“Hopefully, it can help lower China’s suspicions about US moves.”

Such a channel could help China come up with a better response, especially as China was bound by a treaty with North Korea to offer military support to the reclusive state, he said.

In addition to the joint staff dialogue, the two countries also agreed to establish a US-China Comprehensive Dialogue.

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The dialogue, headed by the two presidents, will cover four key areas: diplomacy and security, economics, law enforcement and cybersecurity, and social and cultural issues.

Observers have said there is a pressing need for the armed forces of China and the US to step up communication as the US sends more military vessels to the disputed East and South China seas.

Military vessels from the two countries have sailed close to each other in the disputed waters at various times, but Beijing and Washington have so far managed to avoid an escalation.