Biden administration seeks ‘hotline’ to China for emergency communications
The idea of ââsetting up a hotline with Beijing dates back at least to the Obama administration, although the concept was not codified in a classified national security memo until the last year of the Trump administration, according to a source. close to the note.
A similar hotline to China already exists at the Pentagon and is supposed to be used exclusively for military matters, but rarely is.
“We have a hotline. We know it has, the few times we’ve used it, rang an empty room for hours and hours,” said Kurt Campbell, the Indo-Pacific coordinator of the National Council of Canada. security. year during a conversation about US-Chinese diplomacy and Taiwan.
âThere is a worrying dearth of tools for incident management in US-China relations. It is quite urgent that the US government pursue lines of communication that allow it to respond to a crisis or prevent a crisis. We need a 911 operator, so to speak, âsaid Danny Russel, former assistant secretary in the State Department. Russel added that it is imperative to also consider tools “which can be integrated into a broader crisis communications strategy, with an emphasis on broad risk reduction”.
A senior administration official declined to discuss the device when asked about it, but said that “generally speaking, of course we have an interest in ensuring that competition with China is managed. responsibly. We have made it clear that this relationship will be defined by competition and we welcome this fierce competition, but we will also continue to work to ensure that this competition does not escalate into conflict. ”
Work on technical details
Officials from the State Department and the National Security Council are still working on the technical operation of the device, sources told CNN. The next step would be to develop the overall concept and integrate it into the Biden administration’s engagement plan with China. Then, the device would need the approval of the White House and Chinese authorities before being implemented.
The effectiveness of a new hotline with China would depend heavily on Beijing’s commitment to use it and place it in a position where Xi would have regular access to it.
âThere would be benefits to setting up this type of tool for high-level messaging with China on strategic cyber issues, but you need to make sure it’s connected to the right place in the chain to connect with. leadership effortlessly and quickly, âsaid Chris Painter, former State Department coordinator for cyber issues under President Barack Obama. “You can’t get the information you want, but it could be used to send messages back and forth to warn people.”
Problem with China’s Timely Responses
âIt is difficult to reach the Chinese authorities in times of difficulty. This is largely because their system works top to bottom. At the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, we often did not get answers to critical questions. “said a former US official who served in Beijing.
The idea of ââconnecting the White House and Beijing has been vaguely discussed for years, but the implementation has always seemed far away.
âWe discussed the idea of ââan electronic messaging system with Chinese officials during the Obama administration. It was brought up in our discussions on cybercrime, but we haven’t made much progress. China and China didn’t have the same history of confidence-building measures with the United States as Russia, so they viewed it more suspiciously, âPainter said. “But I think now they have a better understanding of how it could be used. It is by no means a quick fix, but it does give you a useful tool.”
Overall, the Biden administration has said it plans to maintain open lines of communication with China, although early meetings have been strained.
Asked about a future meeting between Biden and Xi, the White House gave no details.
âThe administration is seriously considering what it would really like to pursue and how it plans to move forward in its engagement with China. It has been cautious and smart not to rush prematurely into a commitment to China. large scale with China, âsaid Russel. .
And as the administration expands its diplomatic approach, former U.S. officials say simply setting up a new hotline won’t be enough.
âStrategic risk reduction can be good, but to a point akin to basic hygiene. The central problem is that Beijing is hostile, predatory and highly capable, so the United States needs to organize itself. to defend and push back at all levels. The Biden administration has said they plan to do so. So while setting up a phone line can be helpful, we shouldn’t fall for it too much, “he said. said David Feith, a former State Department official who worked on China under the Trump administration.
As China’s challenge escalates, Biden officials have publicly acknowledged the difficult nature of this challenge and the work it will take to meet it.
“Do I think it’s possible that the United States and China can coexist and live in peace? Yes, I think so. But I think the challenge is going to be extremely difficult for this generation and the next.” Campbell said at one final event. week.