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China-US military trust helps thaw regional chill

16:11, July 14, 2011

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By Li Hongmei



These days, Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, and his 4-day China visit, have made headlines and attracted the public attention. Many of the Chinese experts deem it is generally a "Good-will PR" trip, to rebuild the mutual trust and pave way for future military exchanges.

As it is, Mullen is allowed an access to military facilities is an important component of the delicate choreography between the two sides as they try to build what they call "strategic trust," while also learning more about each other's capabilities and ways of operating. When Adm. Mullen's Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde, Chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, visited the U.S. in May, he was also taken to several U.S. bases.

Gen. Chen Bingde's frankness and the "open and transparent" attitude of the Chinese military will also help the U.S. military, long accustomed to playing a role superb and unchallengeable, remove some, if not all, its undue suspiciousness and fear.

China's People''s Liberation Army has in recent years invested in modernization drive, developing an aircraft carrier, a prototype stealth fighter, the J20, and the Dong Feng-21D missile that the U.S. fears could sink its carriers at 1,000 mile range.

Even so, China's military capabilities are still "20 or 30 years left behind the U.S. army", and its military spending is still much less compared to the country's ever-growing national strength and the already full-blown US army.

Despite some testy exchanges over the South China Sea issue, the two sides appeared to have taken tentative symbolic steps toward rebuilding military relations.

They both have agreed to conduct joint anti-piracy drills in the Gulf of Aden, and at the same time, keep the channels of communication open between themselves. There are, indeed, the shared interest and global issues of common concern drawing the two powers, labeled as "Frennemies"---both friend and enemy, to dance together.

However, differences still exist between the two militaries on issues concerning the South China Sea, US arms sales to Taiwan and China's military development which are actually realistic harms poisoning China-US relations and endangering peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific area, a region US claimed to "come back", and over which the visiting military chief Mike Mullen also "expressed concerns".

But, "the islands disputes can be put under control, if it is not easy to be removed," said Prof. Shi Yinhong, Counselor at Counselors' Office of the State Council, Professor of International Relations, and Director of Center on American Studies at Renmin University, when accepting an exclusive interview from People Forum, People's Daily Online July 13, centered around Mike Mullen's China visit.

This, of course, needs the far-reaching sight and wisdom of the concerned countries. And the U.S. should at first steer clear of any direct or indirect involvement in the ongoing squabbles, if it really worries the flare-up and mounting tensions over the islands could be complicated and the incidents could "risk escalating to be open conflict", as Prof. Shi put it, citing what Mike Mullen said at Renmin University.

During a speech to students at Renmin University of China in Beijing, Mullen said that misunderstanding over territorial disputes could lead to "an outbreak that no-one anticipated." He also said the United States is committed to remaining a power in the area. "We are, and will remain, a Pacific power, just as China is a Pacific power."

Prof. Shi, however, said on various occasions that he is not fully satisfied with Adm. Mullen's description of China merely as "a global power, or a regional power", not a "strategic power," which Shi thinks is significantly important to China, as China should not just be taken as a global or regional power who is supposed to shoulder the due and even more responsibilities, but needs to be respected and treated as an strategic equal.

If the U.S. were no longer in the position to talk down to others, and if its mindset of dwarfing others could be tuned in to understand what others are really thinking, and if it never added fuel to flames, the burning South China Sea would be cooled down, or at least, not turn white-hot, said Prof. Shi.

Or perhaps, if the U.S. treated China as strategically equal, there might be no such "coincidences" accompanying Mike Mullen's China visit----Joint naval exercises with the Philippines, which is just concluded before his arrival, exercises with Vietnam due in the month, and the US, Japan and Australia joint naval drill in the South China Sea while he was here in China. It seems, as it were, not enough to send a clear message to China, the USS Texas, US most advanced nuclear attack submarine, popping up July 11 in Busan, South Korea.

Hopefully, Mike Mullen's China visit months before his retirement is a fruitful one, and if the trip paves way for a "Golden Handshake" between two militaries, it will be a great blessing to the regional peace.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.

Columnists

Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

John 
Milligan-Whyte 
and
Dai MinJohn
Milligan-Whyte
and
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."

http://english.people.com.cn/90002/96417/7440533.pdf