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US-China Hotline Sparks Paranoia Among Military, Intel Officials

Ex-intel director warns China might not always answer the phone

High tensions mean communications are often difficult in the modern era, and countries have used a direct hotline as a way to keep things from spiraling out of control. Recently, the US and China are considering an updated version of the hotline to avoid catastrophes.

But US-China relations are at a multi-decade low, and distrust is such that intelligence and military officials are offering rather paranoid predictions of ways that China might abuse the hotline to deceive the US.

The biggest objection to the phone seems to be based on it being a phone, with retired Captain James Fanell, a former director of intelligence in the Pacific Fleet warning the US might feel dependent on the phone, and then have China “fail to answer” when there is a crisis.

Others suggested China might delay answering the phone in a time-sensitive situation to delay a US reaction to something. While these are technically possible, it’s hard to imagine the US getting into a fight with China and not attempting to communicate first, whether or not there is a dedicated phone to do so.