China suspends military dialogues, climate change talks with US

In addition to the ongoing and unprecedented military exercises surrounding Taiwan, China has revealed another element in its response to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week. On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the cancellation or suspension of talks and cooperation with the United States in eight different areas, as countermeasures for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The State Department announcement is brief, so I will include the full text below:

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region, ignoring strong opposition and serious statements from China. On August 5, the State Department announced the following countermeasures in response:

1- Canceling the speech of the leaders of the Chinese-American theater.

2- Canceling the Defense Policy Coordination Talks between China and the United States (DPCT).

3- Canceling the meetings of the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement between China and the United States (MMCA).

4- Suspending Sino-US cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.

5- Suspend Sino-US cooperation in legal assistance in criminal matters.

6- Suspend Sino-US cooperation against cross-border crimes.

7- Suspending Sino-US cooperation in drug control.

8- Suspension of Sino-US talks on climate change.

In essence, China is unilaterally eliminating engagement with the United States on the Biden administration’s highest priority issues. In this context, it is noteworthy that talks on economic and trade issues – arguably China’s top priority in the relationship – have been avoided.

Climate change has been one of the few areas that can be seen as a bright spot in the current relationship between China and the United States. John Kerry, the US presidential envoy on climate change, is the only Cabinet-level member of the Biden administration to have visited China — and he made the trip twice, in April and September of 2021. Li Shu, chief climate policy and energy officer at Greenpeace East Asia, He described those trips as producing some notable results, demonstrating the “value of sharing.”

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Now China has closed that door entirely, although this is classified as a “suspension”, which means it may be temporary.

Likewise, getting China’s cooperation to stem the flow of illegal opioids like fentanyl — many of which include ingredients manufactured in China — has been a major priority for both the Biden and Trump administrations. Both got cooperation commitments from China, although Washington continued to complain about the implementation. Now Beijing is pulling the plug.

Suspending legal cooperation will set back many other priority areas of the Biden administration. China has long been accused of imposing unjustified travel bans on US citizens visiting or living in China, and detaining others for political reasons. Now it seems that Beijing will not communicate with Washington to discuss these issues.

US citizens were allowed to return to the US in September 2021 after years of trying; Another returned home in November 2021. At the time, it was seen as a welcome progress in Sino-US relations. In the past months, [China] He was more willing to engage in business-level communication channels focused on specific bilateral issues as we faced long-standing barriers and had long-standing concerns,” a State Department official told NPR at the time, referring to issues such as the exit ban and the repatriation of Chinese citizens who They immigrated illegally to the U.S. This nascent advance is now on hold — again, at least temporarily.

China is “cancelling” – rather than “suspending” – its participation in many military dialogues aimed at building confidence and enhancing crisis-management capabilities. This is a dangerous move at a time when the risk of unintended escalation is higher than it has been in decades, such as China’s military exercises near Taiwan.

One of the mantras of the Biden administration on Sino-US relations is to talk about the importance of “firewalls,” a topic brought up in talks between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping and in the recent meeting between their defense ministers. The Biden administration has repeatedly called for “logical firewalls” to help prevent and manage a potential crisis between the two.

However, in July China began warning about its differing interpretation of “protection barriers”. “The United States continues to advocate ‘barriers of protection’,” said Zhao Lijian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, before a meeting between the Chinese foreign minister and the US Secretary of State. The ‘security barriers’ of Sino-US relations already exist – the three joint statements of China and the United States. The joint statements address other issues, but are not much forgotten for their approach to Taiwan. China has directly and repeatedly accused the United States of violating those commitments since Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. China’s reframing of the “handrail” issue earlier this summer indicated that Beijing views US policy toward Taiwan as the most important factor in preventing the relationship from falling off a cliff.

While creating “firewalls” for the relationship is the Biden administration’s mantra, preventing an unexpected crisis — or preventing an incident from sparking outright conflict — is largely in the interests of both parties. China may be trying to send a message to Washington, but preventing defense officials from establishing clear communication channels harms Beijing just as much.

However, it should be noted that China’s unilateral severance of bilateral dialogues, especially military contacts, is not unprecedented. This has long been China’s response to perceived provocations related to US Taiwan policy. In 2010, after the then-Obama administration’s first arms sale to Taiwan, Beijing cut off all military communications, including canceling a planned trip by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to China. Gates complained at the time about China’s willingness to sacrifice security discussions, saying, “Only in the military arena has progress on sensitive mutual security issues been held hostage.”

In this case, the cancellation lasted about a year. Gates finally traveled to China in January 2011, as part of a broader effort to mend ties.

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