“High-level bilateral military contacts have long been a vexed issue. Beijing repeatedly rebuffed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s efforts to secure a call with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe. Austin finally succeeded in speaking to Wei in April after almost 18 months of efforts.
“We want more open communications particularly between our militaries at a time like this,” John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, said Friday. “Because when you have this much military hardware steaming and sailing and flying around, the chances of misperceptions and miscalculations only increase.”
But the relatively low-level nature of the canceled talks suggests that Beijing’s cancellation was more form than substance.
“These are all useful engagements but ones that are not at the very top level and …[bilateral] communications will remain open,” said Ret. Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, professor of practice at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. “I would hope that as opposed to being canceled, these [meetings] are actually just being suspended and that cooler heads would prevail sometime into next year.”
The announcement of cancellations allows Beijing to publicly vent about the Pelosi visit while providing time to walk them back in the coming months. That performative aspect of the Chinese response reflects President Xi Jinping’s domestic political considerations and the need to burnish his image as an iron-willed defender of China’s territorial integrity. That effort is particularly urgent in the run-up to autumn’s 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi is widely expected to emerge with an unprecedented third term as a paramount leader.”