As China and US try to iron out military differences, challenges remain

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/18 20:43:39

Illustration: GT

The face-to-face meeting between Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday morning in Thai capital Bangkok was necessary now more than ever. As the trade war simmers, speculations about possible US missile deployment in Asia and the US intervention in Hong Kong have caused harm to the strategic trust between the world's two biggest powers; hence it was imperative for the military leaders of the two countries to meet. This will help prevent misinterpretation and misjudgment by increasing trust and dispelling doubts.  

Wu Qian, spokesperson for China's Ministry of National Defense, told a news conference following the meeting that Wei and Esper had a "very positive and constructive" meet and "agreed in many areas," which highlights the need for communication. Traditionally, military ties lag economic and trade relations between China and the US. Now many US politicians and think tank scholars are calling for a so-called decoupling from the Chinese trade partnership, and the role of trade as the "ballast stone for bilateral ties" is  weakening. As such, the two countries need to particularly deepen exchanges in the military sphere, making military ties act as a stabilizer for bilateral relations.    

Cratering military relations is not in line with the interest of China and the US. China stated clearly in a white paper titled "China and the World in the New Era" in September its desire for peaceful development and that the country has "no intention" of challenging or replacing the US on the world stage. The US now is facing a string of irritants. French President Emmanuel Macron said NATO is in the throes of "brain death" in an interview with the Economist earlier this month. The blunt remarks came after the withdrawal of US forces from northern Syria last month dismayed European NATO members. Discord is also growing between the US and other allies, such as South Korea, due to differences over their share of defense spending.  

In such context, Washington will not overthrow the military ties with China. Besides, the US has kept a close eye on the development of China's military capabilities and Washington releases an annual report on Beijing's military clout. The People's Liberation Army in the parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China fully demonstrated its modernization, lofty spirits and advanced equipment. Washington is even cautious over whether it should launch a military strike on Tehran. It will be more discreet in dealing with the second biggest economy in the world. 

Nonetheless, plenty of challenges lie ahead. The Trump administration is promoting its Indo-Pacific Strategy and has defined China as a strategic competitor. In addition to the trade war and crackdown on China's technological progress, the US has constantly raised the Tibet question, Hong Kong affairs, South China Sea dispute and Taiwan question to create trouble for China. 

Esper prior to his meeting with Wei, slammed China's behavior in the South China Sea, in a meeting with his ASEAN counterparts on Sunday. China-ASEAN military relations continue to move forward: The first-ever China-ASEAN maritime exercise was held in October 2018, and the two have agreed to conduct a second one. This is what the US doesn't want to see. South China Sea is regarded as a good card the US can use to distance ASEAN from China and to pour cold water on  China-ASEAN military cooperation. 

But the reality is the South China Sea situation has now been generally stable and claimant countries support the settlement of disputes through negotiations and consultations. Take the Philippines. It has deepened economic cooperation with China rather than serving as a US pawn in playing against Beijing, which is more in line with the interests of Manila. The South China Sea is free and open. No countries' commercial activities and trade have been obstructed. Never has any merchant vessel passing through the waters been interrupted or impeded. Wei reaffirmed China's commitment to safeguarding "territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests" in the South China Sea in his meeting with Esper, urging the US to "stop flexing muscles" and "not provoke and escalate tensions" in the waters. 

Wei also called on the US to avoid adding "new uncertainties" over Taiwan. Separatist forces on the island pin their hopes on US protection. They'd better have a look at how the US easily abandoned allied Kurdish-led forces in Syria. The US will not provide firm support to the island of Taiwan, nor will it be able to prevent China's reunification. 

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Yu Jincui based on an interview with He Congnian, professor with International College of Defense Studies, National Defense University  of the People's Liberation Army. 

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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