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China-U.S. relations present opportunities and challenges

The upcoming visit of the US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has induced such a public opinion that the China-US military relationship will look up again. What are the problems impeding the China-US military relationship? How about the development trend? Recently, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the Research Center of Sino-US Relations of Tsinghua University jointly held a workshop to delve into those issues. The major viewpoints on the Sino-US military contacts gleaned from the workshop are as follows:

Why Sino-US relations so fragile?

Rear Admiral Yang Yi (former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Defense University of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army): The military contacts are the “wind vane” of the China-US relations. China and the US hold different points of departure in military exchanges since the US intends to learn about the going-on and intention of the Chinese military, whereas China adheres to the stance that the military ties must serve the overall situation and should not dance to the baton of the US.

How to address the existing problems in the China-US relations? In my opinion, we should never slack down the pace to realize our strategic goal despite the alleged worries of the US, but go ahead as planned. Of course, we can hold strategic communication with the US.

Prof. Wang Baofu (National Defense University of the PLA): Why the China-US military relations are so fragile? The reason is that the military affairs are sensitive. Once something wrong occurs in the China-US relations, the military contacts are prone to be suspended. Comparatively speaking, the resulting influence upon the social development and economic interests of the two countries is not as much. Surely, on the whole, the China-US military relations are still developing as reflected in progress made in the contact and negotiation on the nuclear weapons and the outer space. Even during the Cold War period, the US and the former Soviet Union entered into many treaties. So we have good reason to believe that a lot more things can be promoted in the China-US military relations.

Prof. Ouyang Wei (National Defense University of the PLA): The root cause for the lack of military co-operation between China and the US is the absence of strategic mutual trust. China and the US can enjoy military cooperation. Both countries must refrain from making wrong judgment in maintaining regional and global stability. Once there’s conflict, both sides will suffer. In addition, as China is a new entrant in the implementation of some international rules, especially when problems on the sea are concerned, it needs to make incessant endeavor to grasp how to apply these rules.

My personal judgment is that the China-US relations can be defined as complex ones involving both competition and cooperation. Such relations concern both local and overall relationships which are asymmetrical. In many cases the local relations are confrontational while the overall ones are not necessarily so. Maj. Gen. Peng Guangqian (deputy secretary-general of the National Security Policy Committee of the China Association of Policy Science Study): The paradox confronting the current China-US military relations is that the globalization deepens interest inter-dependence on one hand and exacerbates the interest friction on the other. The interest inter-dependence may lower the risk of the world war to some extent, but it does little to prevent small-scale conflicts, less alone root out the cause for war. The balance of nuclear power deterrence may cut down the risk of an all-round nuclear war, but can’t prevent the outbreak of conventional war.

How to view the new changes in Asia-Pacific security situation?

Peng Guangqian: Various latest US reports showed that the US has already put China in the position of a major potential strategic opponent challenging its interests in future. In addition, the eastward movement of the US military strategic deployment focus from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region and the adjustment with Guam as the new military strategic hub are basically completed. The US has been verifying its combat ability and theory through a series of test-oriented actual-combat exercises, including the US-South Korea (ROK) military exercises and the US-Japan military exercises.

Ouyang Wei: In terms of geopolitics, China should be aware of its international position. Compared with the early days of the reform and opening up, the situation is utterly different. China should behave as a regional power having global influence. Therefore, we shall not only concern the security of our own, but the security of other countries.

We need to consider the issues concerning multiple countries from the perspective of global strategy, instead of considering them from the bilateral perspective. I propose a concept of “East Asia Economic and Security Community” to make East Asian countries dependent in economy and trustful in security. From this standpoint, the China-Japan relations can also realize the situation of “seeking common ground while reserving differences”. Thus, the influence of the Japan-US alliance can be mitigated.

Yang Yi: The South China Sea issue and the Korean Peninsular issue should be viewed from the overall strategy of a power in combination with the geographical situation around China. Different regions should apply different strategies. On the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the situation of the US, Japan and South Korea (ROK) confronting China, Russia and North Korea (DPRK) can’t be formed and the “denuclearization” on the Korean Peninsular should be maintained by all.

Prospect for China-US military exchanges

Wang Baofu: We must have a clear and long-term strategy for the China-US military relations. China should not only try to avoid the direct military confrontation with the US recently, but deter it from waging a next war in the neighboring countries and areas of China. But what is worrying us is that the US will wage a war every several years judging from the historical rule in the past several decades. This is what we Chinese should pay utmost vigilance for.

Peng Guangqian: Historical experience shows that when the economic strength and military strength of a country are powerful and prosperous or declining at the same time, the possibility of waging military action is relatively small on the contrary. But when the economic strength of a country is declining and the military strength is powerful, the possibility of waging military action is the most. The US is currently just in the position of the latter. It can be said that the most dangerous thing is not the inferiority in strength, but slackening of vigilance. If we are well prepared both mentally and materially, the crisis might not break out necessarily.

In regard to the China-US relations, we should prepare for the worst while we are making our utmost efforts in dealing with the US. What is the preparation for the worst? That is to get well prepared for any possible military conflict between the US and China.

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