In a recent meeting between President Joe Biden and the Chinese president Xi Jinping, China agreed to allow high-level military exchanges with American counterparts. This development comes as a positive step in improving relations between the two countries. However, the meeting has been complicated by the fact that China currently does not have a defense minister.
The absence of a defense minister in China has raised concerns about the feasibility of a meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart.
The last defense minister, Li Shangfu, disappeared without explanation in August, following the vanishing of the former Foreign Minister Qin Gang in June. While Qin was immediately replaced, a replacement for Li has not been announced as of now.
Despite this setback, China confirmed its willingness to schedule an in-person meeting between Austin and the new defense minister once that person is named. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh confirmed this information and emphasized the importance of high-level exchanges to manage crises and prevent escalation.
Austin echoed this sentiment, expressing the need for dialogue amidst China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, particularly in regard to Taiwan and the Philippines. He highlighted the importance of senior leaders being able to communicate and prevent conflicts from spiraling out of control.
The meeting between Xi and Biden has been hailed as an “epochal” event by the Chinese Communist Party, benefiting both countries. The Biden administration also expressed optimism, especially regarding military-to-military exchanges that can help prevent clashes in regions where both the American military and the People’s Liberation Army operate.
It is worth noting that China had previously canceled all military talks with the United States in 2022 when Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as its province and seeks reunification, while the United States sells weapons to Taiwan for protection against invasion.
In one of his last public appearances, former Defense Minister Li threatened to attack Taiwan. He emphasized the importance of mutual respect and fairness in international relations, while refusing to meet with Austin at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Li’s disappearance and the uncertainty surrounding his successor have raised speculation about potential corruption charges. Reports suggest that Li may be under investigation for irregularities in military equipment procurement.
Similarly, the former Foreign Minister Qin disappeared amidst rumors of an affair with a television journalist. This disappearance coincided with the journalist’s disappearance after revealing the birth of their child. The identity of the child’s father remains unknown.
Overall, while the agreement for high-level military exchanges between China and the United States is a positive development, the absence of a Chinese defense minister presents a challenge. However, both sides remain committed to ensuring open lines of communication to prevent conflicts.