U.S. and Chinese military officials met in Hawaii this week for a two-day forum, the third military-to-military channel to restart since last November.

The Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, or MMCA, is an annual discussion intended to help U.S. and Chinese forces operate safely in the same areas. China scuppered it and all other military channels in 2022 after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which China’s government considers a rogue province and has threatened to take by force.

The MMCA is notable for two reasons this year.

First, it’s part of a larger effort for the U.S. and China to talk more often.

American officials warned for more than a year that without speaking the two militaries would be more likely to accidentally end up in conflict. Those calls went unanswered until last November, when President Joe Biden met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping near San Francisco, where the two agreed to resume military talks.

Those officially restarted in late December, when America’s top military officer Gen. CQ Brown spoke to his Chinese counterpart. Weeks later, the two sides held another forum in Washington to discuss overall defense issues.

Earlier this week, Biden and Xi spoke over the phone in what a senior administration official described as a “check in.” According to a White House readout, they discussed issues related to Taiwan and the South China Sea, where Chinese forces routinely harass personnel from other countries.

Previewing the call, the official said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would “soon” speak with his Chinese counterpart, Minister of Defense Admiral Dong Jun, who took his post late last year after his predecessor was removed without explanation.

Second, a forum focused on operational safety was surely fraught after two years of what the Pentagon called “unsafe and unprofessional” behavior from the Chinese military.

Last October, the Pentagon released images and videos of “reckless” intercepts by Chinese ships and planes. It said China had conducted 180 such intercepts — essentially steering too close to another ship or plane, like being cut off on the highway — since 2021.

Those have stopped since last November, at least around U.S. forces. China’s coast guard has harassed Filipino vessels around Second Thomas Shoal, a reef in the South China Sea where the Philippines have an outpost. The behavior has concerned defense officials in America, which has a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines.

“While we haven’t seen any unsafe interactions directed at U.S. forces in recent months we do continue to see the [People’s Republic of China] acting very dangerously and unlawfully against routine maritime operations,” said a senior defense official, briefing reporters ahead of the MMCA this week.

At the forum, the American and Chinese officials presented cases to each other of times they argued the other side acted dangerously — like traffic school for military operations. Both delegations — 18 Chinese and 18 U.S. representatives — then discussed the instances. The talks this week focused only on interactions between the two countries, but the defense official said that China’s behavior toward allies will come up in future discussions

“We’ll continue to press the PRC on those issues,” the official said.

Noah Robertson is the Pentagon reporter at Defense News. He previously covered national security for the Christian Science Monitor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and government from the College of William & Mary in his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.

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