International ties

US needs sincerity to cement military ties

By Wang Hui (
Updated: 2010-06-09 16:27
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With bilateral ties between Beijing and Washington enjoying an apparent warm-up, tension in China-US military relations constitutes a stark contrast and is drawing a lot of media attention now.

The tension has been fueled by several events recently. Last week, Washington expressed strong dissatisfaction over China's alleged rejection of a visit proposed by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Otherwise, Gates would have included China in his on-going five-nation trip in Asia and Europe.

Both Washington and Seoul has yet to deny that the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington would participate in a joint exercise to be held on the Yellow Sea soon. Even if the aircraft carrier's unprecedented presence is meant to deter North Korea in the wake of the Cheonan incident, it still constitutes a provocative action towards China as its combat radius could reach the mainland.

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The so-called tit-for-tat war of rhetoric between the two countries' high-ranking military officers on a regional forum over the weekend also adds to the gloomy picture of Sino-US military ties. After US Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended US arms sale to Taiwan in the Shangri-La Asia Security Forum held in Singapore in June 5, General Ma Xiaotian, Chinese military's deputy chief of staff, responded that China does not consider the arms sale normality.

Ma also said there are obstacles in Sino-US military exchanges but the responsibility does not lie in the Chinese side. Given that it is rare to see Chinese officials openly express opposite views towards their US counterparts on international platforms, it is reasonable to gauge the relationship between the two armies does not go well now.

Military ties are regarded as barometer to bilateral relations between countries. In the normal sense, the robust trade ties and warming political ties between Washington and Beijing could have given a shot in the arm to their military exchanges too. As this is not the case now, it is worthy of delving deeper into the crux of the matter.

When Chinese Major-General Yang Yi, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic Studies of the PLA National Defense University, told a group of US army officers this April that Washington posts the biggest security threat to China, he won acclaims from many Chinese for being straightforward.

It is an open secret that the Chinese mainland has been under intensive reconnaissance and surveillance by US warships and warplanes from the South China Sea and East China Sea. Just not long ago, Washington and Tokyo decided to jointly intensify such operations.

Turning a blind eye to the fact that the majority of countries in the world recognize Taiwan as an inalienable part of China, Washington has been arming the island for more than 30 years with top-notch weapons.

In response to the Obama administration's approval of multi-billion arms sale package to Taiwan this January, Beijing partially called off exchange programs between the militaries of the two countries. This is a rightful move to safeguard its core interest. It is reasonable that China said "no" to Defense Secretary Robert Gates' request for a visit as January's countermeasures are still effective now.

The US arms sale to Taiwan has been standing in the way of Sino-US bilateral ties for years and hindered normal military exchanges between the two armies. It was the central matter almost every time when bilateral relations turned sour. Besides, some US laws that have been enacted since 2000 also put limits on military exchanges with China.

It is now crystal clear that Washington should be held fully responsible for the current stalemate in military ties with Beijing. If it really cares about building stronger ties between the two militaries, Washington should make the first move to remove these obstacles. Instead of fanning up hawkish sentiments against China, the US should show real sincerity in respecting China's core interests and create conditions for the resumption of normal bilateral military relationship.