US, Chinese Diplomats Hold ‘Candid Discussion’ in Beijing on Maritime Issuesthedigitalchaps


Talks are part of Biden admin’s efforts to maintain open lines of communication with Beijing, according to US State Department.

Senior officials from the United States and China met in Beijing on Friday for what the State Department described as “substantive” and “candid” talks on maritime issues, including on the contested South China Sea.

The talks were held in Beijing between Mark Lambert, the department’s China Coordinator and deputy assistant secretary for China and Taiwan, and China’s director-general for boundary and ocean affairs, Hong Liang.

The department said the meeting was part of the Biden administration’s “ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication” with Beijing and “responsibly manage the U.S.-China relationship.”

“The United States reiterated the need to resume military-military channels, including between operators, to avoid miscommunication and miscalculation,” it said in a statement on Friday.

Washington said it raised concerns over China’s “dangerous and unlawful actions in the South China Sea,” citing Chinese obstruction of an Oct. 22 Philippine resupply mission at Second Thomas Shoal and its “unsafe intercept” of a U.S. aircraft on Oct. 24.

The air intercept incident occurred when a Chinese J-11 fighter jet came within 10 feet of a U.S. B-52 bomber at nighttime over the South China Sea, putting both aircraft “in danger of collision.”

Tense US-China Relations

Mr. Lambert’s visit precedes a planned meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco later this month.

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Ties between China and the United States have reached historic lows due to disputes over Taiwan, the South China Sea, trade, security, technology, and other issues.

The Biden administration has sought high-level engagements with Beijing to stabilize relations. Top U.S. officials—including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo—have previously visited China for talks with their counterparts.

Mr. Blinken had also raised concerns about China’s actions in the South China Sea and urged the Chinese to resume military-to-military channels between their countries.

‘Coercive, Risky Operational Behavior’

Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, said on Oct. 26 that there have been over 180 instances of Chinese aircraft engaging in “coercive and risky operational behavior” since the fall of 2021.

In those cases, Chinese aircraft conducted “reckless maneuvers, discharged chaff, shot off flares, approached too rapidly or too close to U.S. aircraft” in attempts to interfere with the ability of U.S. forces to operate in places where international law allows, Mr. Ratner said.

Among those also experiencing intimidation in the South China Sea are the Canadians.

The Canadian Armed Forces said on Friday that its CH-148 Cyclone helicopter was intercepted by two Chinese J-11 fighter jets while performing routine exercises over the South China Sea on Oct. 29.

One jet conducted a pass over the helicopter with little separation, causing the pilot to take action to respond to the turbulence. Later that day during a second sortie, the helicopter was once again intercepted by another jet, which launched flares directly in front of the helicopter. The pilot had to maneuver to avoid the flares, the armed forces said.

All these interactions “took place in international airspace, well outside any claimed territorial seas and associated airspace,” according to the armed forces.

South China Sea Claims

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has asserted territorial claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, including reefs and islands that overlap with the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a signatory, designates maritime areas within 200 nautical miles of coastal nations’ borders as part of their EEZ.

The Philippines’ position was recognized by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a 2016 ruling. However, the Hague Tribunal’s ruling didn’t change the CCP’s behavior, with Chinese vessels repeatedly intruding into the Philippines’ maritime zones.