A mis­sion that is pos­si­ble

China and the US should seek to ex­tend their co­op­er­a­tion in tra­di­tional and non­tra­di­tional se­cu­rity ar­eas

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - ZHOU BO The author is an hon­orary fel­low with Cen­ter of China-amer­i­can De­fense Re­la­tions, Acad­emy of Mil­i­tary Science. www.chin­aus­fo­cus.com

The China-US mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship is not short of prob­lems or crises. But at present the mo­men­tum is def­i­nitely in the right di­rec­tion.

The China-US Strate­gic and Eco­nomic Dia­logue in July con­cluded with 91 out­comes from the strate­gic track, and both sides said they are “com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship and to make ef­forts to raise the re­la­tion­ship to a new level”.

Chi­nese De­fense Min­is­ter Gen­eral Chang Wan­quan and Naval Com­man­der Ad­mi­ral Wu Shengli are ex­pected to visit the United States this year.

But there are still a lot of is­sues to be over­come to build greater mu­tual trust.

The S&ED ob­li­gates both sides to “ac­tively ex­plore a no­ti­fi­ca­tion mech­a­nism for ma­jor mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and to con­tinue dis­cus­sions on the rules of be­hav­ior for mil­i­tary air and mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties”.

But does that in­clude the US’ de­ploy­ment of troops or weapons sys­tems on China’s pe­riph­ery as part of its re­bal­anc­ing to Asia? Does it in­clude anti-satel­lite mis­sile tests, such as the one con­ducted by China in 2007 and by the US in 2008? On the rules of be­hav­ior for mil­i­tary air and mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties, does this in­clude US re­con­nais­sance in China’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone and the Chi­nese naval flotilla’s unan­nounced but le­git­i­mate pas­sage through the Straits of Ja­pan?

To make things more com­pli­cated, the same term may have dif­fer­ent mean­ings for the two mil­i­taries. For ex­am­ple, freedom of nav­i­ga­tion is ac­knowl­edged by both China and the US ac­cord­ing to United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea, but the Chi­nese be­lieve that mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties can­not be sim­ply cat­e­go­rized as freedom of nav­i­ga­tion and can­not in­fringe on a coastal state’s national se­cu­rity in­ter­ests, while the US main­tains that mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and over­flights and other in­ter­na­tion­ally law­ful uses of the sea fall within the free­doms of nav­i­ga­tion.

Pro­mot­ing co­op­er­a­tion in tra­di­tional se­cu­rity ar­eas is chal­leng­ing, since it re­quires greater trust. Still, it can be done. In 1998 China and the US signed an agree­ment not to tar­get their nu­clear weapons at each other. Could they go a step fur­ther to sign a non-first-use agree­ment, such as the one be­tween China and Rus­sia?

Over the years, Bei­jing has asked the US to stop sell­ing arms to Tai­wan and the US has called on Bei­jing to with­draw short-range mis­siles aimed at Tai­wan. Now that cross-Straits re­la­tions have im­proved, per­haps it is time for the US to prom­ise not to sell arms to Tai­wan and Bei­jing to agree to with­draw the mis­siles. Could the US lift the re­stric­tions in the De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act for Fis­cal Year 2000 and the De­lay Amend­ment that re­stricts the US mil­i­tary’s ex­changes with Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army?

Mean­while bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral ex­er­cises should con­tinue. Last year saw the two mil­i­taries en­gage in bi­lat­eral counter-piracy ex­er­cises in the Gulf of Aden and a joint table­top ex­er­cise in hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and disas­ter re­lief in Chengdu. In April, a Chi­nese mil­i­tary spokesman an­nounced that in 2013, the two mil­i­taries will con­duct a joint disas­ter re­lief ex­er­cise and an­other counter-piracy naval ex­er­cise in the Gulf of Aden. China has also ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion from the US to at­tend next year’s Rim of the Pa­cific Ex­er­cise, the world’s largest in­ter­na­tional naval ex­er­cise, which will take place in the wa­ters off Hawaii. China and the US also par­tic­i­pate in re­gional plat­forms such as the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions Re­gional Fo­rum and the Asian De­fence Min­is­ters Meet­ing-Plus, which brings to­gether the de­fense min­is­ters from the mem­bers of ASEAN, plus the US, China, Rus­sia, Ja­pan, In­dia, South Korea, Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

To build bridges, non-tra­di­tional se­cu­rity is a “soft” area where the two coun­tries can work to­gether to es­tab­lish greater trust. Among their on­go­ing joint ef­forts in anti-ter­ror­ism, mil­i­tary medicine, pan­demic dis­ease con­trol, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and disas­ter re­lief, counter-piracy is a good ex­am­ple of co­op­er­a­tion. On Nov 22, 2010, the USNS Lewis and Clark and USS Win­ston Churchill pro­vided sub­stan­tial help to the PLA Navy in re­liev­ing the Chi­nese ves­sel Ta­iankou, which was at­tacked by pi­rates in the Gulf of Aden. Piracy in the gulf has dwin­dled con­sid­er­ably thanks to the joint ef­forts of in­ter­na­tional naval forces in­clud­ing China and the US. Both coun­tries also par­tic­i­pated in the first Hu­man­i­tar­ian As­sis­tance and Disas­ter Re­lief and Mil­i­tary Medicine Ex­er­cises in Brunei in June, which were staged un­der the frame­work of the ADMM-Plus. Th­ese ex­er­cises should be in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized to en­hance in­ter­op­er­abil­ity and to pro­mote ca­pac­ity build­ing.

More can also be done to co­op­er­ate in peace­keep­ing. To date, China is the largest troop and po­lice con­trib­u­tor among the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil with 22,000 mil­i­tary per­son­nel dis­patched to 23 peace­keep­ing mis­sions. The US is the largest con­trib­u­tor of funds, pay­ing $ 7.33 bil­lion, more than 28 per­cent of the to­tal, for the fis­cal year July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. But in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the two is rare. In spite of a 23-year in­volve­ment, Chi­nese peace­keep­ing is pri­mar­ily con­fined to pro­vid­ing en­gi­neer­ing, lo­gis­tic and med­i­cal sup­port to avoid the sen­si­tive is­sue of send­ing “com­bat troops”. How­ever, on June 27, 2013, for the first time in his­tory, China an­nounced that it would send a se­cu­rity force to be de­ployed in Mali. Not only can the two mil­i­taries ex­change in­for­ma­tion about their ex­pe­ri­ences, they can also pro­vide sup­port and train­ing to the re­gional peace­keep­ers of the African Union who need as­sis­tance due to lack of funds, equip­ment and ex­per­tise.

At their Sun­ny­land sum­mit Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pledged to es­tab­lish a “new type of re­la­tion­ship be­tween the ma­jor pow­ers”, this will re­quire un­remit­ting and even painstak­ing ef­forts from the two mil­i­taries to deepen strate­gic trust.

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