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US and Chinese military officials met in Hawaii to discuss operational safety in the Pacific

<i>Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Randi Brown/US Navy via CNN Newsource</i><br/>In this photo provided by the US Navy
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Randi Brown/US Navy via CNN Newsource
In this photo provided by the US Navy

By Haley Britzky, CNN

(CNN) — US and Chinese military representatives met in Hawaii this week to discuss the safety of forces in the Pacific, marking the first in-person meeting of its kind in years after cancellations by China.

The Military Maritime Consultative Agreement Working Group meeting was held in Honolulu on Wednesday and Thursday this week. Eighteen officials from China’s People’s Liberation Army attended, alongside 18 representatives from the US military’s major commands in the Pacific, including officials from US Indo-Pacific command, US Pacific Fleet, and US Pacific Air Forces.

A senior US military official told reporters this week that the talks in Hawaii were “critical to ensuring the safe operation of our military force.”

“Both of us owe it to our service members to ensure that we operate safely,” the official said, adding that this was the “first of the operational safety types of conversations we’ve had because of the cancellations by the PRC in the past couple of years.”

This week’s meeting was the first to follow President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2023, when the two leaders committed to maintaining military-to-military communication. This week was also the first in-person meeting in years, as the last MMCA event in December 2021 was held virtually.

The MMCA meetings between the US and China have been happening since 1998.

Biden and Xi also spoke on the phone on Tuesday, discussing various topics like countering narcotics, artificial intelligence, and climate change. It also served as a “check in” on the November conversations, which included discussions about the military-to-military relationship between the two countries, a senior administration official told CNN.

In January, US and Chinese officials also met at the Pentagon to discuss relations after two years of cancellations by China.

The head of the US delegation and director of Northeast Asia Policy for INDOPACOM, Army Col. Ian Francis, said in a release on Friday that the MMCA meeting is the military’s “primary means to directly discuss air and maritime operational safety with the PLA.”

The senior military official said this week that there has been a “reduction in unsafe behavior” between US and Chinese aircraft over the Pacific, which they called an encouraging sign and one they wanted to ensure continued.

A senior defense official echoed the same, but added that the US continues “to see the PRC acting very dangerously and unlawfully against routine maritime operations the Philippines is conducting in the South China Sea.”

US officials said in October last year that there had been more “coercive and risky” behavior from Chinese pilots against US aircraft over the last two years than in last decade. But in January, two US defense officials told CNN that China’s unsafe interceptions of US military aircraft had eased.

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