China wants US to explain military plans in Australia

Updated: 2011-12-07 07:07

By Li Xiaokun and Qin Zhongwei (China Daily)

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BEIJING - As high-ranking military officers from China and the United States meet in Beijing on Wednesday for their annual defense consultative talks (DCT), Chinese experts said Beijing is likely to ask Washington to explain its plans to base US forces in Australia.

The meeting will also serve as a barometer to show how bilateral military ties have recovered since the US decision to sell arms to Taiwan in October cast a shadow over exchanges between the two armed forces, said US analysts.

"The US has always asked China to be transparent about its strategy. It is the US who should make its intentions clear," said Major General Luo Yuan, from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science.

He was referring to frequent US military activities around China this year, including joint military exercises with countries having territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

Among the most recent moves, US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in mid-November in Canberra that up to 2,500 US Marines would be deployed in the northern Australian port of Darwin from mid-2012.

Obama said the plan showed Washington's "commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region", during his nine-day trip to the region that ended on Nov 19.

The move, however, drew concern from neighboring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"Australia is just a pawn in this arrangement, while the US is really controlling the situation behind the scenes," said Liu Qing, director of the Department for American Studies of the China Institute of International Studies.

"China is closely following these events, and the US should explain them to the Chinese side," Liu said.

The 12th DCT meeting, scheduled for Wednesday in Beijing, will be chaired by Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the PLA General Staff, and US Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy.

It will be the first high-level meeting between the militaries of the two sides since the Obama administration announced a $5.85-billion weapons sale to Taiwan despite strong objections from Beijing.

A Chinese military spokesman told the media at the time: "In light of the serious damage resulting from the US arms sale to Taiwan, planned China-US military exchanges, including high-level visits and joint exercises, will definitely be impacted."

An article in Critical Questions, published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said on Dec 2 that the PLA had subsequently postponed several bilateral exchanges, including a visit to China by the US Army band, a visit by Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the US Pacific Command, joint US-China anti-piracy exercises and a US-China military medical exchange. This round of the DCT was not postponed, however, said the article.

Yet "it remains to be seen, however, whether the Chinese military is prepared to resume fully all aspects of the US-China military-to-military relationship", it added.

The article was co-authored by two research fellows with the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the CSIS.

"An important barometer of the bilateral military relationship will be whether the DCT produces an agreed-upon agenda of bilateral military exchanges for 2012 and how extensive that list is," it said.

"US arms sales to Taiwan is the most important issue in military relations between the two sides. The US will be asked to respond to China's concern on that," Liu said.

As for the US side, the Critical Questions article said Washington's concerns likely to be on the agenda of the DCT include the South China Sea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, maritime security, cyber security, nuclear weapons policy and outer space.

The DCT was established in 1997 and has been held 11 times since its inception. It represents the highest-level bilateral dialogue between the two militaries.