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China: No End To Strategic Suspicions Of US – Analysis

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By D.S.Rajan

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has released enough official material about the outcome of the four-day long visit to China (11 to 14 July 2011) paid by the Chief of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, during which he held talks with his Chinese counterpart Chen Bingde, State Councillor Dai Binguo, Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Guo Boxiung and Vice-President Xi Jinping.

According to government reports, ‘sensitive’ issues like China’s sovereignty over South China sea, US sales of arms to Taiwan, Cyber Space security and military development in China came up for discussion and the two sides expressed their ‘commitment to step up military-to-military relations’, besides agreeing on several exchange plans. Notable is the assessment made by the PRC Ministry for National Defence that “ Mullen’s visit has highlighted the consensus reached between the two sides and showcased the commitment that China holds toward boosting ties between the armed forces of both nations”.

China
China

Needless to emphasize that for reaching a correct understanding of the results of Mullen’s visit, it would be necessary to have a composite view of what the official and unofficial channels have said on the subject, especially in view of the well recognized potentials of the latter, represented by influential experts and commentators close to the Party or Government, for shaping policies. Annexed below is a chronological account of how the non-governmental analysts in the PRC have treated the visit.

It can clearly be seen that China’s both official and unofficial opinions on Admiral Mullen’s visit have strongly underscored the need for the PRC military to ‘cooperate’ with its US counterpart, despite differences on key issues like Taiwan and South China sea; this trend undoubtedly is a continuation of the spirit which both China and the US displayed during Hu Jintao-Obama summit level talks (Washington, January 2011) in support of strengthening ‘China-US Cooperative Partnership’. What are the factors motivating the two to do so? The answer lies in growing China-US interdependence; the PRC has emerged as a big market for US manufacturers and holds over a trillion US dollars in the US, including in treasury bonds. At military levels, the two sides are aware of the likelihood of conflicts arising in case of any ‘misjudgment’ on their parts. These are compelling them to limit their differences and work together.

Notwithstanding what has been stated above, the fact that China continues to nurture strategic suspicions of the US comes out clear from the unofficial, but authoritative, viewpoints brought out in the Annexure. First comes the persisting Chinese concerns over US strategy to ‘contain’ and ‘suppress the regional strategic space’ of the PRC; the latter point has significantly come under the stress of party top theoretical organ itself.

Secondly, Beijing, as it did in the past, appears to implicate India as a partner to US coordination of its strategic position against China; New Delhi may have to study implications of such Chinese revival of doubting India’s intentions.

The last to catch attention is China’s demand that the US should treat it as a ‘strategic equal’ and respect its ‘core interests’. The PRC’s principle of ‘core interests’ is especially important in the context of China’s current territorial aggressiveness under the ‘core interests’- based foreign policy. To be seen in this context is Beijing’s strident criticism of the latest Obama-Dalai Lama meeting in Washington. It is also being predicted that the Dalai Lama’s White House engagement may cast a shadow on the scheduled US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – PRC State Councillor Dai Bingguo meeting at Shenzhen on 25 July 2011. Also relevant may be chances of Chinese past retaliation against the US appearing again in case Washington indulges in fresh supply of arms or F-16 aircraft to Taiwan. The PRC Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi has stated (Beijing,March 2011) that the US “ will put improved relations with Beijing at risk, if it does not stop selling arms to Taiwan”. However, against the stated imperative to ‘cooperate’ with the US now, Beijing may not be willing to have a showdown with Washington on dividing issues.

Worth examining is the question as to whether there is a consensus within China on ‘partnership’ with the US, irrespective of differences. Last year saw many influential retired military generals charging the US of ‘plotting to encircle’ China and demanding tough Chinese counter-measures. Some even asked for selling the US bonds held by China. There was also a belief that the Chinese military did not give prior information to President Hu Jintao about the test flight of J-20 stealth bomber. These gave rise to a feeling that the army influences the country’s foreign policy making or acts occasionally independent of the civilian authorities; however, such reasoning may not be accurate as during Mullen’s visit to China, it could be seen that the military and diplomatic establishments were on the same page in matters concerning the country’s policy towards the US.

Xi Jinping, likely to succeed Hu Jintao as Party Chief in the next year’s Party congress, while meeting Admiral Mullen, has referred in warm terms to China-US partnership.
Under such circumstances, the current pattern of Sino-US relations based on both ‘cooperation ’ and ‘competition’ is not likely to undergo any change, at least in the near future.

(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director,Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai,India.Email:[email protected]).

Annexure

Global Times – Opinion Column- 11 July 2001 (Chinese language)

American military holds up China strategically, but thinks about China shouldering a variety of responsibiities.

Professor Qin Shanrong of Chinese People’s University has stated that the opinion of Mullen about China having become a powerful nation in the world is in his individual capacity. As a military chief, he rates China highly. But his words mean that China should shoulder many responsibilities.

CCTV, Channel Four, Commentator Ma Xiaolin, 11 July 2011(Chinese language)

“ Military Honeymoon Does Not Conceal US Strategy to Contain China”.

A number of highlights and breakthroughs may mark the visit, but in long term, the process of building of Sino-US ties will be a complex one. Judging from the prevailing situation concerning South China sea and Taiwan issue, despite the current ‘military honeymoon’ between the two sides (Visits of Gates to China in January 2011, Chen Bingde to US in May 2011 and Mike Mullen to China now), it will be difficult for Washington to cover up the reality of its strategy aimed at ‘restricting’ and ‘containing’ China. The US has no plans to stop sales of arms to Taiwan and sophisticated weapons to South China Sea nations. It is giving troubles to China by internationalising South China Sea disputes and holding joint military exercises with Japan and Australia. Such measures are meant to contain and block China’s strategic posture. Despite the ongoing friendly exchanges between China and the US, the reality of the two militaries not enjoying ‘mutual trust’ and ‘looking at each other with suspicion’ cannot be hidden. Hence, the two nations, to ensure a stable, long term and friendly mutual ties, need to do more work than conducting high-level military exchanges.

People’s Daily/Global Times, Opinion column, 12 July 2011:

Military Ties Can Shape Sino-US Future

China-US bilateral relationship is subject to many variables. Competition, either in economy or ideology could evolve into hostility. Conflicts between China and its neighbors and the involvement of the US could turn into a China-US confrontation. Despite suspicion and alertness, neither the US nor China can coerce the other through force. Public opinion on both sides favours positive military ties. The Chinese military is changing with the geo-political landscape. It is also changing through more exchanges with US military officials such as US Admiral Mike Mullen.

www.eeo.com.cn , “Jingji Guancha” (Economic Observer), Xue Litai (Research Scholar in Stanford University), USA, 12 July 2011 (Chinese language).

New Challenges to a rising China

The situation concerning Taiwan and South China Sea are challenges before a rising China. Taking the first, in the forthcoming elections in Taiwan, the native tribal population numbering 1.3 million may vote against the now ruling KMT’s Ma Yingjiu regime and instead support DPP’s Tsai Yingwen who has an inclination towards ‘Taiwan independence’. Whether the US will come in support of Tsai Yingwen, will be worth watching. If Washington mixes its outlook of treating China as a rising superpower capable of closing the gap with the US, with its position to be adopted in the Taiwan elections, the situation may get complicated. Secondly, on the South China Sea issue, the US attitude has changed. During 80s, the US was for not interfering in the South China Sea sovereignty dispute, but in the 90s, after the Tianenmen incident, Washington began to modify its stand by hoping for solving the issue by the countries concerned through peaceful means. In July 2010, Hillary Clinton, the US Defence Secretary and other American officials further altered their positions viewing South China Sea issue as coming under American security interests. This US policy change could be due to two reasons – Firstly, Washington is worried that if the situation changes in South China Sea, American naval interests will suffer limitations in terms of navigational freedom in international waterways and of rights to operate in air space over South China sea by American aircraft. Secondly, the US is concerned that China, subsequent to its strengthening of its naval and air power, will pose greatest challenge for American presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Consequently, the US began a course of coordinating with countries like Japan, India and Vietnam to ‘restrict’ China; admittedly, in recent years, the US has been following a mix of ‘restriction’ and ‘engagement’ approach towards China, but its emphasis has always been on the former. These signal that China-US ties are not progressing well.

“Red Flag Manuscript” (Hong Qi Wen Gao), a publication of “Qiu Shi”, the theoretical organ of the Chinese Communist Party, 12 July 2011, in Chinese language

“New Changes in US Military Strategy” (written by Wu Qingli, Yin Chao and Yin Sai of Shijiazhuang Army Command College)

The US military strategy, released by the Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in February 2011,provides new knowledge about Washington’s perceptions of future strategic environment and the ‘multi-faceted’ threats to it. Long term strategic interests of the US lie in maintaining existing strength and seeking new areas of future hegemony in the ‘global commons’. In the Asia-Pacific region, American freedom of action in ‘global commons’ will receive concrete challenges from more and more countries and non-state actors. Due to rapid development of some Asia-pacific nations, the US considers that there will be challenges to it; in the next 25-30 years, the comprehensive national strength of some countries will exceed that of United States, posing a threat to US strategic interests. Nuclear proliferation and military modernisation in some countries can create a complex situation, restricting freedom of international action of the US. The US future military strategy will be tied with diplomatic and economic means. The US joint military exercises with Japan and South Korea mean that the former aims to conduct military cooperation, but also build new military platform against other countries through ‘deterrence and containment’. The new changes in US military strategy will make China’s security environment a complicated one, suppressing China’s strategic space in the region. China must pay a high degree of attention to US intentions; it must adopt measures to guarantee that the Chinese interests in the region do not suffer from Washington’s new strategy.

“ Renmin Wang” (People’s Daily. Net) – Military report (in Chinese language), 12 July 2011

The US two-pronged policy towards China: Mullen’s visit is to engage China; US drills nearby is to restrict China (People’s Daily correspondent Li Changyang)

Japanese circles point out that the US-Japan- Australia joint military exercise has the common aim of restricting China. The US is adopting a two-pronged approach towards China. Mullen’s visit is for engagement , but the exercise in South China Sea is part of strategy to ‘restrict’ China.

Xinhua – Xue Litai, Research Associate, Centre for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, US. (14 July 2011)

A Good Omen for Sino-US Relations

For the US, the rapid build-up of the PLA air force and navy are a challenge to the US leadership in the Asia-pacific region. Free navigation should not be an excuse for the US to interfere in the South China disputes. The US and China recognise the necessity to enhance military exchanges to reduce mutual distrust. A strategic misjudgement resulting from lack of mutual trust can give rise to explosive situations involving the two nations. Washington and Beijing must first respect and care for core interests of each other.

People’s Daily-Opinion- 14 July 2011

World Should Promote Peace, not Violence.

The US, Japan, South Korea joint military exercises is a manifestation of ‘violent multi-lateralism’. Following the rise of China, the US and Japan have advanced their alliance and set up ‘triangular’ military networks by means of the US-Japan alliance + 1. Their aim is to pay close attention to China’s maritime activities; for this purpose, it is strengthening defence cooperation with South Korea, Australia, India and the ASEAN nations. The US –Japan- Australia joint military drill near South China Sea held in July 2011, also requires to be viewed from this angle. The US is seeking to ‘strategically contain China’ by utilising the land and maritime sovereignty disputes.

English.news.cn (14 July 2011)

Mullen wraps up China visit, “Confident” of US-China military ties.

Professor Yao Yunzhu of PLA Academy of Military Science has said that there are contradictions between China and the US, some even fundamental. However, neither of the countries can develop well without the other, as the two countries are highly interdependent.

People’s Daily-Opinion- 14 July 2011

US should respect China’s Core Interests

China-US relations have ‘rebounded’ from Mike Mullen’s visit. Both sides should cherish this ‘hard-won’ situation. Military movements are often related to core interests of both the sides and the US mentality of containment sometimes have caused the US to make moves threatening China’s ‘core interests’.

People’s Daily, 14 July 2011, by Li Hongmei

China-US Military Trust helps Thaw Regional Chill

China and US appeared to have taken tentative symbolic steps towards rebuilding military relations. These include agreement to conduct joint anti-piracy drills in the Gulf of Aden. Differences still exist between the two militaries on issues concerning the South China Sea, the US arms sales to Taiwan and China’s military development. Professor Shi Yinhong of Renmin University and a counselor at the PRC State Council has said, “ The island disputes can be put under control, if not easy to be removed”. Any US direct or indirect involvement may lead to incidents escalating into open conflict. China should not be taken just as a global or regional power supposed to shoulder more responsibilities but needs to be respected as a ‘strategic equal’. The US actions like holding of joint naval exercise with the Philippines, scheduled exercise with the Vietnam in July 2011, the US-Japan –Australia joint naval drill held in South China Sea in July 2011 and the very recent deployment of US most advanced nuclear attack submarine USS Texas in Busan, South Korea, imply that US does not treat China as a strategic equal

SAAG

SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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