China-US military ties advance

Updated: 2012-05-17 08:10

By Zhao Xiaozhuo (China Daily)

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Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie paid a six-day visit to the United States last week. It was the first visit by a Chinese defense minister in nine years and also the first high-level military exchange since bilateral military ties were disrupted by the US' planned arms sale to Taiwan last year.

Four consensuses have been reached between Liang and his US counterpart Leon Panetta on further developing military ties and strengthening pragmatic communication and cooperation, demonstrating the general direction of the bilateral military ties is now toward stability, mutual trust and cooperation. The joint statement indicates that the US may refrain itself from harming China's core interests, and China will also try to avoid breaking military ties as revenge.

China-US military ties have not only been disrupted by the US' arms sales to Taiwan over the past 20-odd years, but also by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, and the collision between a US reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter near China's coast that killed the Chinese pilot in 2001.

But the fundamental underlying reason for the ups and downs in Sino-US military relations is the lack of strategic mutual trust, which arises from their historical grudge against each other and long-standing differences in social institutions. Insufficient strategic mutual trust has impeded the progress of the military relationship, which, in turn, prevents both countries from building and furthering their mutual trust. The bilateral military relationship thus keeps going through a repeat cycle of souring, stagnation, resumption and development.

The two defense chiefs have agreed that the two sides should try and break this cycle. However, whether they can succeed largely depends on whether the US eliminates the three major barriers in the way of their military relationship, namely US arms sales to Taiwan, the close-in surveillance activities in airspace and waters around China and the discriminatory restrictions set by the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act and the Delay Amendment on China-US military exchanges.

Non-traditional security threats have become of increasing concern in recent years, posing a real and urgent need for China and the US to cooperate on the security front. According to the third and fourth consensuses reached between Liang and Panetta, both countries agree to enhance exchanges and cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and other fields and to conduct joint humanitarian relief and mitigation, and anti-piracy exercises this year. The expanding and deepening military cooperation will facilitate their strategic mutual trust, forging conditions necessary for solving bilateral differences and sensitive issues.

The Pentagon unveiled a new military guidance entitled "Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense" earlier this year, ushering in a new round of military contraction and a rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region. As it is returning to the region, the US is more aware of China's military modernization and is concerned that it will challenge its military dominance in the region. Meanwhile, China's belief that the US is pursuing a containment policy has been reinforced by the US enhancing its military ties with its Asian allies and the Air-Sea Battle operational concept signed into effect last year.

Nonetheless, China and the US are not necessarily at daggers drawn, especially as a more optimistic view on their relations has become the conventional wisdom in Beijing and Washington. Following on from Chinese President Hu Jintao's call for the two countries to build a new type of relationship between big powers, Liang said during his visit that China and the US should make efforts to establish a new type of military relationship that stresses mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.

For his part, Panetta said the US supports the idea of building ties between the two militaries that are future oriented and the two sides should step up their cooperation to confront common security threats and challenges together.

Liang's visit to the US has clearly been very fruitful, and we have good reason to remain optimistic for the future of the China-US military relationship.

The author is a senior colonel and research scholar with the Academy of Military Science of the PLA.

(China Daily 05/17/2012 page9)