The Chinese side three times refused to accept a phone call from the head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, who, in violation of protocol, requested to speak not to the Minister of Defense, but to an official of higher rank. The South China Morning Post reported this on May 26, citing military sources.
“A Chinese military source said there was a misunderstanding when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a conversation with Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Central Military Council, thereby insulting the defense ministry,” the paper reported.
According to the source, Austin’s counterpart on the Chinese side is Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, not Xu Qiliang, the second man in the CMC structure, which is headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself.
The source noted that although both officials report directly to Xi Jinping, diplomatic protocol requires the Pentagon chief’s interlocutor to be Defense Minister Wei Fenghe.
Experts interviewed by the South China Morning Post note that virtually all intergovernmental and military channels of communication between China and the United States have been suspended since bilateral talks this March in Alaska, which ended in a public scandal and exchange of grievances.
Some experts disagreed that Austin’s request was a violation of diplomatic protocol. Zhu Feng, a professor at Nanjing University and an expert on international relations, said the incident was caused by poor channels of communication.
“Content is more important than job titles. Parties should not be interested in the job titles of their partners, they should think about their credentials,” the expert said.
On March 19, CCTV reported that at talks in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. authorities were unfriendly to the Chinese delegation. It was noted that in the opening speech the U.S. delegation “blamed” on the foreign and domestic policy of China and exceeded the agreed time limit, which violates diplomatic protocol. In addition, U.S. officials accused their Chinese counterparts of violating protocol during negotiations.