During his recent visit to China, Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeatedly asked his hosts to set up a military-to-military crisis communications hotline. They declined. USINDOPACOM commander, Admiral John Aquilino complained earlier this year that the Chinese were ignoring his requests to establish direct communications channels with the Chinese military People’s Liberation Army (PLA) regional commands.
Top United States civilian and military officials may be fretting. But they might better worry about having too few Navy ships and submarines or stocks of anti-ship cruise missiles instead of having their Chinese counterparts on speed dial.
China Knows How to Contact US Forces
How critical is it to have designated communication lines with the PLA?
It doesn’t matter that much. The People’s Liberation Army also knows how to get in touch with the United States military in the area if it wants to.
Communications channels already exist for all militaries operating in the sea and/or air to communicate with each other. You’ll also notice that the Chinese military routinely contacts US and Australian, Japanese, Canadian, and other ships and aircraft to warn them to stay out of what the Chinese say is their territory.
The Chinese think the Americans (and everyone else) should not be operating in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait without China’s permission. So that sets the tone for the relationship. Having some other or special “communications link” isn’t going to change anybody’s mind.
What’s Wrong With Mil-to-Mil Hotlines?
When the PLA tries to ram or obstruct US ships and aircraft they know exactly what they are doing. And the orders come from “on high.” Being able to call the Chinese up on a designated line to tell them they shouldn’t do what they are doing seems pointless. The Chinese know we aren’t happy. They also don’t care.
You might ask again, why won’t China agree to mil-to-mil hotlines?
The answer is in large part because the Americans are so eager to have such a communications channel. If the Chinese refuse to join such a link it’s possible (indeed, likely) the Americans will offer some concession to get the Chinese to agree. Say, for example, not making an issue of a Chinese spy balloon over the United States.
The concession might not even be on the military front. It might be relaxing economic sanctions on the People’s Republic of China. Or it might be not complaining about China’s human rights abuses and intellectual property theft.
Another concession might be pretending Xi Jinping knows nothing about the fentanyl that killed 70,000 Americans in 2022.
Read the rest at JapanForward.
Grant Newsham is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.