More exchanges needed for mutually assured dependent relations between China and the US in the 21st Century
China and the United States were once again embroiled in a war of words recently, this time as a result of the military drills near China's coastal waters. Media in both countries decoded the recent war games from various angles: tit-for-tat actions, one country's anxiety over the other, or the extending of strategic feelers.
However, a review of China-US military relations in recent years reveals two basic facts:
First, the two countries and their military leaderships have more than once emphasized their desire to develop bilateral military ties and strengthen communication.
Second, the two militaries are dedicated to promoting and stabilizing a friendly relationship between the two countries. Between the 1970s and 1980s, military cooperation between the two forces blazed a trail for normalizing bilateral relations at a time when trade ties between the two countries were still weak. This kind of military cooperation also contributed greatly to the end of the Cold War.
Post-Cold War spats between China and the US over issues such as the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the 2001 collision between US and Chinese military aircraft, have all delivered severe blows to bilateral ties. Yet even so, the two military forces prioritized their general interests and responded rationally to these crises in spite of enormous pressure from the media and the public.
As a key part of Sino-US relations, the stalled bilateral military ties should be brought back on track for the better development of bilateral relations as well as world peace. To that end, the two forces must reach consensus on two points.
First, they should remain focused on the overall global situation and China-US relations as a whole. Suggestions that conflicts or war between the two countries are inevitable are misguided from a 21st century perspective since there will be no winner in the nuclear and globalization era.
Second, the two forces must learn how to coexist and establish mutual trust on the premise that both have a clear understanding of the bilateral ties.
Recent events, especially the military exercises, have once again revealed the mistrust between the two and given rise to speculation that the two countries will lapse into an arms race similar to the one that obsessed the US and former Soviet Union.
Some on the US side have described the bilateral relations as neither friend-like nor foe-like, while they have been defined in China as the coexistence of cooperation and competition. These definitions, though, have complicated China-US relations, including their military ties, and have shown that neither government is taking the other as enemy and neither wants a military confrontation.
In reality, over the past three decades, the rise of one country has not been predicated on the decline of another. The sustainable development of two powers enables both to benefit from non-rival policies and that is why Sino-US relations should be based on mutually assured dependence. Only on such a foundation can the so-called structural contradiction between the status quo power and the rising power be solved.
Given this, the US should understand that the modernization of Chinese military will make it more confident in cooperating with the US military and be more conducive to it taking on further responsibilities abroad.
In order to have sustainable bilateral military relations, a full awareness of the huge differences between the two countries' strategic culture and tradition is also important.
For the US, leadership and threat are two key words in its military culture and strategic doctrine, a mirror to the sense of crisis and alarm engraved on the US soul and the impulse for the US to retain its leading role on the world stage. In the meantime, "China is influencing the world through its self-changes", as Zhang Baijia, an expert on the history of the Communist Party of China, once put it.
China does not, and will not seek, hegemony. It advocates building a harmonious world. The Chinese military has also participated with other militaries in cooperative humanitarian endeavors such as international peacekeeping, disaster relief and anti-pirate initiatives.
Viewed in this light, China and the US appear at odds, despite sharing considerable interests.
To coexist, they should be aware of their differences and deepen mutual understanding, so as to prevent any disturbing emotions and irrationalities precipitating antagonism.
Last but not the least, based on mutual respect, the two forces should fully understand the limits of their relations and find a way out of any difficulties through joint efforts. Among all the stumbling blocks to a stable and sustainable military ties, the most significant one is the US arms sales to Taiwan, always a trigger for deteriorating relations between the two militaries. The two countries should therefore discuss the issue frankly.
Meanwhile, in order to ease the strained military ties, both parties should engage in dialogue about US military reconnaissance of China and its transparency. Moreover, the two military forces should explore the potential and prospects of cooperation in some nontraditional security fields. This kind of cooperation helps ease tensions, builds mutual trust and would help stabilize China-US relations.
Given that the two military forces are at a critical period and demonstrating a serious lack of mutual trust, the establishment of a sustainable and stable relationship between them requires a process of learning and adjusting, during which friction and contradiction can hardly be avoided. Clashes should be prevented; the two military forces should reach consensus where possible, especially on issues involving a third party, and then conform to the due standard of behavior.
The author is a professor with the National Defense University.
(China Daily 09/30/2010 page8)