China-US military relationship

By Zhao Jinglun
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 21, 2014
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[By Jiao Haiyang/]

[By Jiao Haiyang/]

The high-profile visit of General Fang Fenghui, chief of China's PLA General Staff, to the United States at the invitation of his counterpart CJCS General Martin Dempsey, signals both problems and maturity in the relationship between the two militaries.

Many people have watched the joint press conference of both top brass and were simultaneously puzzled and amused by their heated debate over the South China Sea conflict. Yet the substance of that conference is a summary of the important consensus reached after candid talks: measures to enhance trust and avoid miscalculation and misunderstanding.

China and the United States had agreed to establish a new model of big power relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, cooperation and mutual trust. That overall relationship covers all three aspects of political, economic and military. The military relationship is an important component, but admittedly the short leg of the tripod.

That is primarily because of Washington's strategy to rebalance towards Asia and the Pacific. The Obama administration has again and again professed that it does not focus on containing the rise of China. It has declared to take no position over the territorial disputes in East and South China Sea.

Yet why is it deploying the better part (60 percent) of its naval and air assets to the Asia-Pacific region and in fact emphatically siding with its allies Japan and the Philippines in their territorial disputes with China?

Tokyo stirred up trouble in the East China Sea by "nationalizing" China's Diaoyu Islands. Manila ditched its dilapidated warship on China's Huangyan Reef, provoking the South China Sea conflict. Yet Washington blames Beijing.

Judging by its actions, not its professions, Washington is seen not only as trying to contain China, but also as regarding China as its hypothetical enemy.

Take the Pentagon's air/sea battle concept (ASB) for example. It is explicitly designed to counter what the American military calls "anti-access/area denial (A2/AD)," a Western formulation of China's war strategy.

According to the Pentagon's unclassified document, the ASB Concept "is designed to attack in-depth, but instead of focusing in the land domain from the air; the Concept describes integrated operations across all five domains (air, land, sea, space, and cyber space) to create advantage." The Concept is designed to sustain America's freedom of action and ability to project power.

In other words, the ASB Concept is designed for all out total war. President Xi and President Obama agreed at the Sunnylands summit to establish a new model of big power relationship precisely to escape the Thucydides trap and to avoid that dangerous all out war.

It is unimaginable that the two great countries would fight that kind of total war. Therefore, the two militaries have to build up mutual trust and avoid miscalculations. Therein lies the significance of General Fang's visit. In return to China's hosting of Chuck Hagel on China's first and only aircraft carrier the Liaoning, General Fang was given a tour of the bridge of the littoral combat ship the USS Coronado in San Diego. He also visited the U.S. Third Fleet and met Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, who escorted him on a tour of the modern aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

General Fang also visited Fort Bragg in North Carolina, a major U.S. army installation.

It was a truly trust-building visit.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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