July 18 (BP) — Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley has ordered U.S. forces to compile a comprehensive assessment of all military interactions with China in the last five years, sources said Monday.
Milley has ordered the wide-ranging review in the light of the escalating number of encounters between the American and Chinese militaries in the South China Sea, three unnamed defense officials told NBC News and CNN.
The review is coming after a video teleconference call between Milley and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng, on July 7, in which Milley “discussed the need to responsibly manage competition and maintain open lines of communication” between the two militaries, according to a Joint Chiefs readout of the conversation.
During the call, it said, Milley “underscored the importance of the People’s Liberation Army engaging in substantive dialogue on improving crisis communications and reducing strategic risk.”
U.S. military analysts say interactions between the two militaries are so sensitive they are frequently kept under wraps. Under the current review, the Joint Chiefs’ staff is looking at “hundreds of interactions” to determine precisely how often Chinese forces are endangering U.S. counterparts, the sources said.
Regular transits of the South China Sea by U.S. Navy vessels have created tensions between the United States and Beijing in recent years.
One recent acknowledged incident came last week when the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation.
The action drew complaints from Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, who said the U.S. military was “causing trouble and disturbing relations” with the maneuver.
The Navy’s Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group began operating in the South China Sea last week for the first time in 2022. The group includes the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan.