White House laments rising tensions as China cuts off military communication

Australia copped it for years, now a diplomatic row between the world's two largest economies is seeing China give the cold shoulder treatment to the United States.

The White House confirmed on Friday (local time) that the two militaries were not communicating after China shut down official military channels in response to the US shooting down an alleged spy balloon earlier this month.

Tensions have been rising between the two superpowers, after the balloon incident preceded the US Air Force shooting down a number of unidentified flying objects in recent weeks.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it was "unfortunate" that China's military had ceased to communicate, but noted that high-level diplomatic channels remained open.

John Kirby (right) said it was 'unfortunate' China had shut down communication between the two militaries.
John Kirby (right) said it was 'unfortunate' China had shut down communication between the two militaries. Source: Getty

Speaking to reporters at a White House news briefing, he said high-ranking diplomats can still communicate despite tensions over the balloon incident but said a previously planned meeting by State Secretary Antony Blinken and his Chinese counterpart would not happen any time soon, saying it was "not the right time".

"I recognise that there are tensions," Kirby said.

"But Secretary Blinken still has an open line of communication with the foreign minister. We still have an embassy in Beijing ... and the State Department also can communicate directly with the PRC embassy personnel here.

"Unfortunately, the military lines aren't open, and that's really what we would like to see amended," he said.

While analysts have warned about the dangers of deteriorating bilateral relations between the world's two most powerful militaries, China has stopped short of the complete diplomatic freeze it put the previous Australian governments in under Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. Chinese officials reportedly refused to pick up the phone to their Australian counterparts for years after the previous prime ministers led the charge on banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei and called for a global inquiry into the origins of Covid.

China cut several military-to-military communication channels and other areas of bilateral dialogue after an August visit to the Chinese-claimed island of Taiwan by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which took Washington-Beijing relations to a worrying new low.

On Thursday (local time), Biden gave a speech focusing on the balloon incident. He said he expected to speak with Chinese leader Xi about it and hoped to get to the bottom of the affair.

In answer to a question, Kirby said Washington had not formally requested a call with Xi, but added: "That does mean it’s not going to happen, that the president ... doesn’t want to talk to President Xi. He will."

"There's no preconditions for a call," Kirby said. "The president will want to have a conversation with President Xi at the appropriate time."

According to the White House, the two leaders last spoke in November.

The United States said overnight it had successfully concluded recovery efforts to collect sensors and other debris from the balloon and investigators were now analysing its "guts."

with Reuters

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