Three thoughts on US-China relations after the Shangri-La summit

The incidents highlighted a very important dynamic between the two superpowers. Although a conflict is inevitable, the lack of crisis management mechanisms makes it more likely. Indeed, the issue has been a particular point of contention among many countries at Shangri-La, who want to see Washington and Beijing manage their differences without being drawn into a major power struggle.

USIP’s Rosie Levin and Alex Stephenson offer three takeaways from the Shangri-La conversation and what it proves about the US-China relationship.

1. US-China military talks deadlocked despite growing risks

Last year, Austin met Along with Lee’s predecessor at the forum, he spent more than an hour discussing key friction points including Taiwan, North Korea and the war in Ukraine. But Li, who took over as China’s national defense minister in March, declined an invitation to speak with Austin in the week before the Shangri-La talks. (He is under sanctions for his role in buying Russian military equipment in 2018.) Even as high-level discussions resume in other areas, the absence of a meeting reflects an ongoing stalemate in military talks.

Instead of using the summit to talk, security leaders used their platform to blame the other for the lack of dialogue. For his part, Austin expressed deep concern that “PRC [the People’s Republic of China] I don’t want to get more serious about the best methods of crisis management.” Austin told his Chinese interlocutor clearly, „Dialogue is not a reward. It’s a requirement. A warm handshake at dinner is no substitute for substantial engagement.

Meanwhile, his Speech, Li revealed the inextricable link between China’s words and actions. „Only improving dialogue and communication and promoting unity and cooperation will ensure stability in our region,” he declared, adding that China would „follow the guidance of high-level engagement between security and military leaders … and establish various direct hotlines to expand communication channels.” Nevertheless, Beijing is adding conditions to its relationship with the US. For example, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry recently said that the United States should „immediately correct its wrongdoings, show sincerity, and create the necessary atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication between the two militaries.”

This breakdown comes at a time when communication between military superpowers is most needed. Pentagon last week Accused A Chinese fighter pilot performed an „unnecessary aggressive maneuver” in the South China Sea, bringing two warplanes into dangerous proximity. Over the weekend, a Chinese warship became dangerous Cut across the bow A US warship transiting the Taiwan Strait. These are the latest in close calls between the two armies. As the risk of conflict increases and dialogue channels are closed, it is unclear how the two sides will communicate to resolve a crisis should it arise.

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2. Asian countries seek stability in the region and Washington and Beijing want to better manage their differences.

The absence of a US-China senior leaders meeting cast a long shadow over Shangri-La and became a forum for both Li and Austin to seek personal support from East and Southeast Asian partners. The meetings shed light on some key priorities in the region: Asian countries are calling on the US and China to manage their rivalry responsibly, while at the same time finding success in establishing their own mechanisms with China to address pressing security needs.

Defense leaders from several Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN), including the defense ministers of Cambodia, Indonesia and Singapore, called on the US and China to find ways to manage their differences and not allow peace in the region to be threatened. Singapore Defense Minister Eng Eng Hens Speech He expressed his „deep concern” over the lack of dialogue between the two superpowers and warned that the lack of conflict-management mechanisms could have a disastrous impact on the region. „For Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region, the US-China relationship is central to stability,” he noted, underscoring that „Singapore and other ASEAN countries are not disinterested spectators” in the decline of US-China relations.

Meanwhile, the region faces several pressing security challenges: territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas, threats from North Korea, and long-term issues such as climate change are top priorities for countries in Asia. Both Austin and Lee held private meetings on the sidelines of Shangri-La to address these issues with key regional partners. In several bilateral and trilateral meetings, Austin pledged to increase joint exercises, strengthen military cooperation and deepen engagement through structures and networks. A.D.M.G.-PlusAUKUS and Quad.

China, meanwhile, worked to establish strong bilateral crisis communication mechanisms with key partners in the region. Before the summit, Li and Singapore’s Ng oversaw the signing Memorandum of Understanding, This includes an agreement to establish a secure security telephone line for high-level security communications to mitigate and prevent conflict. A Meeting Li and his Japanese counterpart, Yasukazu Hamada, provided another bright spot for strained communications in the region, particularly the complicated relationship between China and Japan (marked by deep animosity resulting from legacies of World War II and disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea). During the meeting, the two ministers agreed to operate the bilateral security hotline, which came online last month, „appropriately and reliably”. Their debate comes weeks after Li and Hamada’s Initiated Hotline with a brief but valuable call.

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The establishment of these new hotlines contrasts with China’s tough stance toward the United States’ demand to use similar channels. Additionally, establishing channels does not guarantee success – America has found that these hotlines go unanswered and fail to serve their original purpose. China is establishing these mechanisms to draw closer to Asian partners or to send a signal to the US that it can establish hotlines, but only on Beijing’s terms. Whatever the motivation, these crisis communication mechanisms, if effective, could provide useful insights for the United States as it considers its approach to crisis management with China.

3. China continues to campaign for a vision of a Beijing-led global security order.

As expected, Li’s speech focused on Beijing’s global security initiative – launched by Xi Jinping last April to promote China’s role in global security. In addition to offering „Chinese wisdom” to address the world’s most pressing security challenges, the GSI has been used to criticize US leadership in international security, a trend Li continued in the Shangri-La dialogue.

Lee’s opinions He opined that „some country” — a not-so-subtle reference to the United States — was responsible for disrupting peace and stability in the region. These include clear contrasts between Beijing’s vision of global security and America’s actions. For example, Beijing won mutual respect and, according to Li, “some country deliberately intervened in another country. [sic] internal affairs and … often resorted to unilateral sanctions, invasion.”

Once upon a time Question-Answer Session, Li elaborated on the US and China’s different approaches to crisis management. Although he insisted that China was open to engagement with the United States, he was adamant that Beijing had „principles of engagement,” saying mutual respect was a prerequisite for productive engagement, without clarifying what that respect would look like.

Regarding the recent close calls between the US and the Chinese military, Li blamed the presence of the US military in the region, saying such incidents could be prevented if the militaries of other countries did not operate near their borders. This vision — a provocative presence of the U.S. military near China’s border — is incompatible with America and its allies’ desire for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, and will cause tension in the coming years.

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What can Washington do?

Despite their differences, Austin and Li both underscored that conflict between their countries was inevitable. However, as close calls increase in frequency, the necessary preventative measures must now be instituted to ensure peace. There is room for both countries’ interests in the region, but to manage these interests productively, greater coordination and dialogue are needed. The absence of a meeting between the two top security officials points to a deeply challenging environment, especially the highly politicized approaches to the bilateral relationship in both countries. Policymakers in both countries should seek to establish mechanisms for security dialogue and crisis communication that are insulated from the political issues of the day.

At the same time, the US should be clear about its prospects for engagement with China. The reliable operation of existing mechanisms, such as the defensive telephone line, as well as the establishment of new mechanisms and security protocols, must be a constant priority. But Washington should be aware that Beijing views these channels with deep suspicion and interprets the critical communication mechanisms as a way for the US to conduct military operations on its border with greater confidence. Therefore, close calls and blocked communication channels are often seen as secondary to the greater risk – losing strategic ground to the United States. As long as this false position persists, both sides will continue to talk past each other.

Finally, despite China’s efforts to woo stakeholders in the region, it still faces a tough security environment on its periphery. China’s neighbors have expressed a long list of security concerns regarding Beijing’s assertive actions in the region, while the United States continues to enjoy strong partnerships and alliances across the Indo-Pacific. For the Philippines, these concerns have drawn a key Indo-Pacific ally closer to Washington. As it may take more time to establish US-China critical communication channels, the US can stay in close contact with these allies and partners to better understand China’s intentions and actions in the Pacific.

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