Op-Ed Contributors

Warming defense ties with US

Updated: 2011-05-18 07:46

By Yao Yunzhu (China Daily)

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When the United States Army and People's Liberation Army (PLA) bands played at a joint concert at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on May 16, General Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the PLA, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, were seen smiling among the audience. It was the first ever visit by the PLA band to the US and the first visit of a PLA chief of the general staff after seven years.

Early this year, President Hu Jintao and US President Barack Obama agreed to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive partnership between China and the United States. A healthy and stable military relationship is an integral part of this partnership.

One of the highlights of the recently concluded third round of China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was the establishment of the China-US Strategic Security Dialogue (SSD) under the strategic track of the S&ED. Defense officials, military and civil both, from China and the US will meet regularly under the SSD.

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And General Chen Bingde's trip to the US signals that Sino-US military-to-military relations are back on track after a bumpy period last year. But the significance of General Chen's visit goes beyond its immediate implication. Being the militaries of the world's two largest economies, the PLA and its US counterpart share many security concerns and interests. Global terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change, natural disasters, safety of sea lanes, and security in outer and cyber space pose new security challenges for both. In diversifying their tasks and missions, the two militaries will find extensive areas to cooperate.

A recent example of such cooperation is the anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, in which task forces from the navies of both countries participated. Ship captains and sailors visited each other's side. Data and information were shared in hostage rescue operations. Cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster reduction, environmental protection, military medical operations, professional military education and military archives has been going on for years. In recent years, the two militaries have conducted joint training and exercises, observed each other's military exercises and trained together in multilateral mechanisms.

Military cultural exchanges are on the increase, too, as is shown by the PLA band's visit to the US. It is expected that the success of General Chen's visit would improve strategic mutual trust, which in turn would serve as the basis for closer cooperation and coordination in traditional as well as non-traditional security issues.

While it is imperative for the Chinese and American militaries to work together against the new challenges of the 21st century, some fundamental differences remain. The most prominent of which is the continued US arms sales to Taiwan. A stable and long-term relationship requires the respect of each other's core interests and sharing of each other's major concerns.

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