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FACTDROP: Lack of Trust, Volatile Context and Strategic Shift jeopardize China-US Military Relations' improvement


Lack of Trust, Volatile Context and Strategic Shift jeopardize China-US Military Relations' improvement

Chief of Staff of the US Army George Casey (L) and Ge Zhenfeng, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Deputy Chief of the General Staff salute during the US national anthem during a welcome ceremony at PLA Headquarters in Beijing on 20 August 2009. China called on the United States to reduce and eventually halt air and sea military surveillance close to its shores.
Πηγή: Diplo News
By Charles Rault
August 28 2012

Cai Yingting, a Deputy Chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China, arrived in the United States Monday for an official visit. He met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. In separate talks, he also met with Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Lloyd Austin III, the U.S. Army's Vice Chief of Staff.

Cai's visit took place as tensions have grown over the increase in military relations between the United States and a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific area, South Korea (ROK) and Japan in particular. In July, a short report published by the Chinese Ministry of Defense explained that "the US uses military exercise diplomacy to accelerate its eastward shift of strategic focus," and that the Obama administration has taken the initiative of this new approach that shifts America's strategic focus eastward. It further listed the multiple joint trainings and joint exercises carried out by the US in the region, in addition to RIMPAC 2012which drew much attention from Chinese officials.

The report reads that "in Northeast Asia, there was the US-ROK "Key Commitment" joint exercise and the US-Japan-Australia "Against North" joint military exercise; in the waters of the Yellow Sea, the US and the ROK held a joint anti-submarine training; in the South China Sea area, the US and the Philippines held the "Shoulder to Shoulder" joint military exercise; in Southern Asia, there was the "Cobra Gold" joint military exercise held by seven countries including the US, Thailand, the ROK and Japan, as well as the "Malabar" joint military exercise held by the US and India," And for the report to conclude bluntly that these military exercises have highlighted US deployed intention to realize the "stability under the US rule", and transform the 21st century into a "Pacific Century of the United States."

In such a context, Cai's statements seem optimistic since he has told his counterparts at the Pentagon that China and the United States have made key and positive progress in developing bilateral relations since the Obama administration came to power in 2009. "The top leaders of the two countries, President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao, have reached important consensus to establish a new type of big power relations," he said. Yet it appears that both Chinese leadership and state media suspect President Obama of flexingmuscles in Asia with a view to strengthening his national security leadership while running a campaign for a second term at the White House.

At least, the United States' stance is clear and the shift China interprets as a long-term threat has been overtly and publicly supported both by the White House and by the US Department of Defense. The US Defense Strategic Guidance of January 2012 pointed out South Asia, along with the Middle East, as the "primary loci" of the threats which challenge US national security. Hence the "necessity" to "rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region", the Guidance reads (PDF, p. 2); and the expansion of US "networks of cooperation with emerging partners" in the region. The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnamare these emerging partners which have particularly intensified their military relations with the United States for the last months.

China has responded to the US strategy by running a state media campaign which denounces the "illegal" aspects of parts of US cooperation with allies like Japan and by pointing an accusing finger at the deploying of more military forces which "goes against the world's pursuit of peace." Also, it has been closing ranks with Russia by setting the stage for expanded military cooperation through a six-day joint military drill in April and the praise of Russian military technologies which is "gradually narrowing the gap with the military equipment of the US-led NATO."

Despite China's affirmation of "positive progress", Cai and his American counterparts acknowledge that much remains to be done for the two countries to enjoy mutual trust and concrete cooperation between their armed forces. Cai justified the need for "concrete efforts" by the "US arms sales to Taiwan" and what Beijing perceives as threats against China's sovereignty and security like the possible application of the 1960 US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security to Diaoyu Islands which are the scene of a mounting diplomatic confrontation between China and Japan.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit China next month.

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