Updated Dec 21, 2023 - World

U.S. and China military leaders speak for the first time in over a year

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown in Congress in June 2023.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown in Congress in June 2023. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Thursday to his Chinese counterpart, per a statement.

Why it matters: It was the first time in more than a year that the countries' military leaders spoke — and comes more than a month after President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to resume high-level military-to-military communications.

  • Experts have said that a lack of communication between the two superpowers raises the risk of miscalculation, close calls and conflict in the Asia–Pacific.
  • Brown and Chinese Gen. Liu Zhenli spoke by video teleconference.

Catch up quick: The Chinese government ceased military communications and several other lines of dialogue with the U.S. in 2022 after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visited Taiwan.

  • Beijing claims sovereignty over the self-ruled island and rejects gestures that might suggest it's independent.
  • The U.S. has made several failed attempts since to reestablish military communications, according to NBC News.

What they're saying: Brown and Liu discussed the need for the U.S. and China to work together to manage competition and avoid miscalculations, according to a readout of the call.

  • The two discussed unspecified "global and regional security issues" and Brown suggested that the leaders of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the People's Liberation Army Eastern and Southern Theater Commands should also speak to each other, the readout notes.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: The conversation shows that the Chinese side is following through on the agreement Biden and Xi reached at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last month.

  • It's a positive sign going into 2024 that both countries remain committed to managing the bilateral relationship, despite ongoing tensions and fundamental disagreements.

Yes, but: The call also came a day after NBC News reported, citing U.S. officials, that Xi told Biden during the November summit that Beijing will reunify Taiwan with mainland China.

  • The timing had not yet been decided, Xi said, but China prefers taking Taiwan peacefully and avoiding a military conflict.
  • While Xi has made similar comments publicly, the warning during the meeting alerted U.S. officials because of the private setting. It was also made amid heightened tensions between Beijing and Taipei related to Chinese military activity within the Taiwan Strait.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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