The top U.S. military officer called upcoming military engagements between the United States and China an encouraging sign that the two countries are beginning to build a relationship that advances both their interests and their ability to confront common challenges.
The United States seeks “a sustained and reliable military-to-military relationship with China,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized during a speech today at Beijing’s Renmin University.
Such a relationship will build more “strategic trust” between the two countries and promote greater transparency about their operations, the chairman said in his prepared remarks. This, he said, reduces the risk of “miscalculation and miscommunication” particularly in times of crisis, he said.
“What we have learned, over time, is that one of the best ways to credibly change the problem of judging intentions in through deep, broad and continuous military-to-military engagement,” the chairman told the audience. “This dialogue will also expand cooperation where our interests converge and provide at least some context in those areas where we have differences.”
Mullen lauded President Barack Obama’s and Chinese President Hu Jintao’s decision during a 2009 presidential summit in Beijing to advance and sustain military-to-military relationships.
China abruptly cut off military exchanges after the United States announced arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010. However, Mullen said today he is seeing “encouraging signs of progress” that the presidential initiative is getting back on track.
Mullen cited former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ visit to China in January, and People’s Liberation Army Chief of the General Staff Chen Bingde’s visit to the United States in May as “very productive” steps in the right direction.
Both nations reaffirmed the importance of a “healthy, stable, reliable military-to-military relationship” during those visits, but Mullen called high-level visits just one part of the relationship-building equation.
“Over time, it is just as important that our younger military officers meet and get to know each other, so that they can begin to develop relationships that I hope will last decades,” he said. This, he said, will help build the foundation for the two militaries to operate together in exercises and joint activities.
Mullen noted upcoming engagements, discussed during Chen’s visit to Washington, that will help pave the way toward those operations.
Military Maritime Consultative Agreement working groups will meet in China and at U.S. Pacific Command this year to discuss future operational safety and to build cooperation in the maritime domain, he noted.
By the year’s end, the two navies plan to participate in joint counter-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden.
In addition, senior military medical exchanges in Washington, D.C., as well as Hawaii and Texas will set the stage for future joint medical aid exercises, Mullen said. Meanwhile, plans are being laid for future humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exchanges and joint exercises, expected to take place in 2012.
Mullen emphasized that relationship-building must be “an enduring effort, not something that can be tossed aside and picked up again when the political winds change.”
Toward that end, he offered “three tones” for both nations to build on as they renew their military relationship to complement cooperation being seen in political and economic channels.
First, both the United States and China must “work from a posture of mutual respect,” recognizing each others’ strengths and achievements. “When we do come together to talk, it should be from an honest and deep appreciation of the others’ positions, challenges, aspirations and interests,” he said.
Secondly, Mullen said both the United States and China must recognize that local issues that impact Asia and the Pacific often have global implications.
“Both of our nations recognize the emerging challenges of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, growing global energy demands and the geopolitical implications and stresses of climate change,” he said. “Therefore, our exchange must not be limited to the Asia-Pacific, but should range farther and wider, as befits our shared interests and China’s increasing ability to contribute positively and beyond your shores.”
Finally, Mullen urged the two nations to look “to the future, not to the past.”
“China today is a different country than it was 10 years ago… It is no longer a rising power. It has, in fact, arrived as a world power,” Mullen said. Likewise, he said the United States is changing, too, along with the context and global order in which both countries operate.
“I believe that our dialogue needs to keep pace with these changes,” the chairman said. “It needs to move from working out the particular issues and conditions of our bilateral relationship, to working together to meet broader – and common – goals we share.”
Pursuing a positive, renewed military relationship between the U.S. and China will take a serious commitment, but ultimately, will provide benefit that extends far beyond both countries’ borders
“A well-ordered world and a prosperous Asia need both a strong and prosperous America, and a strong and prosperous China,” he said. Mullen offered assurances that the United States “stands ready to stay engaged” with China to pursue that mutual goal.