Washington already faces obstacles understanding Beijing’s decision-making process, and it could be growing into a “dangerous trend” since China cut military communication channels with the US, a former US military intelligence leader said on Monday.

“China is tough to truly understand … We don’t have enough and we need to have greater understanding so we can map out decision-making circles, and who influences who, and how choices were made,” Michael Studeman, a rear admiral who was commander of the Office of Naval Intelligence until last month, said at a Hudson Institute event titled “A Requiem for Dominance: New US Strategies to Deter Aggression”.


‘Proud of trip to Taiwan’: US House Speaker Pelosi describes visit that angered mainland China

‘Proud of trip to Taiwan’: US House Speaker Pelosi describes visit that angered mainland China

Calling the Chinese system “clunky” under President Xi Jinping, Studeman said: “There’s no way to potentially guarantee that you can get the right sort of information at the right time.”

“And this is the scary thing with regard to the Chinese view towards cutting off communications with the US military – not having hot lines.”

After then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan a year ago, Beijing cut off three main military communication channels with Washington. When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing in June, he proposed restoring those channels, but Xi rejected the offer.

Blinken says he told Beijing officials US does not seek to ‘contain’ China

On Monday, Studeman said that Beijing could be requiring the US to improve its attitude and show respect, but also working from the belief that a hotline could lead to potentially hazardous action.


The Chinese, he said, “believe that if you have a hotline, that we’re more prone to risky behaviour”.

Studeman suggested China’s perspective of the US as “just don’t give them a safety net and then maybe there’ll be more conservative with their forces and their behaviour”.

People’s Liberation Army fighter jets conduct joint combat training exercises around Taiwan on August 7, 2022, in drills following Pelosi’s August 2-3 trip to the island. Photo: Xinhua via AP

Whatever the thinking, Studeman said, it “leads to very little official communications now …

“This is a very dangerous trend in terms of our ability as major powers to truly work out our issues,” he added.

During the Monday event, former US intelligence officials drew attention to the Taiwan situation and called for more efforts to shape the perceptions of top leaders of Beijing.


Studeman said that if Xi “tries to go after Taiwan, ultimately what will ensue will lead to the downfall of the chairman and the party secretary.

“And I think he underestimates this.”


“Where we need to invest our time and energy is in prevention … this is the main strategy,” he said.

China may be withholding dialogue as ‘bartering chip’: US commander

Also at the event, Ezra Cohen, a former acting under secretary of defence for intelligence and security, said that China had been engaged in “irregular warfare campaigns” in the Pacific for 10 to 15 years and that the US should focus on responses to that shift, Cohen said.


The US defines irregular warfare as “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations”.

Cohen agreed that “understanding” and “shaping” China’s decision-making process was a critical objective: “You don’t just do that through intelligence collection. You also do that through probing and doing things to elicit certain responses.

“That would help us understand the decision-making process better, but also for us to shape the decision making process,” he said.


In a paper the institute published last month, Hudson – a conservative, hawkish think tank – argued that the Pentagon needed to confront China as a means to discourage aggression.

Those efforts, the institute said, ought to include “undermin[ing] PRC leaders’ confidence in destructive scenarios” and “us[ing] technology in assessment and force design to support campaigning by understanding and shaping PRC leaders’ scenario preferences and risk perceptions”.