U.S. Wants Renewed Military Contacts with China

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2010 — Resump­tion of mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary con­tacts between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na is in both coun­tries’ best inter­ests, senior defense offi­cials said yes­ter­day.

The offi­cials, speak­ing on back­ground about a new report deliv­ered to Con­gress yes­ter­day, also said the Chi­nese have not been as trans­par­ent as they could be about their mil­i­tary trans­for­ma­tion pro­gram, leav­ing the Sino-U.S. dia­logue open to mis­un­der­stand­ing and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tions that could lead to mis­cal­cu­la­tions.

The con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed annu­al report, titled “Mil­i­tary and Secu­ri­ty Devel­op­ments Involv­ing the People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na 2010,” was released on a day when offi­cials announced Chi­na has sur­passed Japan as the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­o­my. Chi­na should have a gross domes­tic prod­uct of just over $5 tril­lion this year. The Unit­ed States has the world’s largest econ­o­my, with just over $15 tril­lion.

The boom­ing Chi­nese econ­o­my is a good thing for the world, the report says, not­ing that the Chi­nese mid­dle class is grow­ing by leaps and bounds. The eco­nom­ic expan­sion has giv­en the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment the mon­ey need­ed to trans­form its mil­i­tary.

“We wel­come a strong, pros­per­ous and suc­cess­ful Chi­na,” a senior defense offi­cial said, not­ing that a strong Chi­na has played an increas­ing­ly impor­tant role on the inter­na­tion­al stage.

“At the same time,” the offi­cial added, “the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has embarked on a mis­sion to trans­form its mil­i­tary into a mod­ern force capa­ble of con­duct­ing a grow­ing range of mil­i­tary mis­sions.”

A decade ago, China’s army issued a new roles and mis­sions state­ment that goes beyond the country’s imme­di­ate ter­ri­to­r­i­al inter­ests. Some of the growth is good: Chi­na is par­tic­i­pat­ing in human­i­tar­i­an relief, peace­keep­ing, search and res­cue and coun­ter­pira­cy mis­sions. At the same time, “the lack of trans­paren­cy around China’s grow­ing capa­bil­i­ties and its inten­tions have raised ques­tions about Chi­nese invest­ments in the mil­i­tary and secu­ri­ty sphere,” the offi­cial said.

This wor­ries plan­ners and strate­gists in the Pen­ta­gon. The Chi­nese have not been open about anti-access capa­bil­i­ties they are devel­op­ing, about cyber attacks, or even about the cost of their mil­i­tary effort, offi­cials said.

In March, Chi­nese army lead­ers announced a 7.5 per­cent increase in the country’s mil­i­tary bud­get to about $78.6 bil­lion. “The [Defense Depart­ment] esti­mate of China’s total mil­i­tary-relat­ed spend­ing for 2009 stands at some $150 bil­lion,” the senior defense offi­cial said.

“The com­plex­i­ty of the region­al and glob­al secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment, as well as the advances in China’s mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties and its expand­ing mil­i­tary oper­a­tions and mis­sion, call for a sta­ble, reli­able and con­tin­u­ous dia­logue between the armed forces of the Unit­ed States and Chi­na to expand prac­ti­cal coop­er­a­tion where our nation­al inter­ests con­verge and to dis­cuss can­did­ly those areas where we have dis­agree­ment,” the senior defense offi­cial said. “Such dia­logue is espe­cial­ly impor­tant, we believe, dur­ing peri­ods when there is fric­tion and tur­bu­lence.”

The Chi­nese end­ed the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary dia­logue with the Unit­ed States after the Unit­ed States sold $6.4 bil­lion in defen­sive weapons to Tai­wan in accor­dance with the Tai­wan Rela­tions Act of 1979. It was the sec­ond such halt in recent years.

Last year — the year cov­ered by the new report — Sino-U.S. mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions were good. But the on-again, off-again nature of China’s engage­ment with the U.S. mil­i­tary end­ed the peri­od of civil­i­ty and progress in the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship.

The stop-and-go cycle lim­its the areas the two mil­i­taries can dis­cuss. Even more trou­bling giv­en China’s increas­ing mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, this cycle increas­es the risk that mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mis­per­cep­tion could lead to mis­cal­cu­la­tion, the offi­cial said.

“More­over, we believe that it is in our mutu­al inter­ests … that we have a bal­anced and rec­i­p­ro­cal dia­logue allow­ing us to build mutu­al trust, coop­er­a­tive capac­i­ty, insti­tu­tion­al under­stand­ing, and devel­op com­mon views, all of those things on our nor­mal check­list, and that there is a real cost to the absence of mil­i­tary-mil­i­tary rela­tions,” the offi­cial said.

The Unit­ed States has tried to restart the con­tacts. It is now up to Chi­na to make the next move and “demon­strate that it is in their inter­est to stay in that rela­tion­ship and that they desire to sus­tain these engage­ments through peri­ods of tur­bu­lence,” the offi­cial said.

In the near term, the Chi­nese are prepar­ing for a Tai­wan con­tin­gency. Chi­na also is devel­op­ing the capa­bil­i­ty to attack at long range mil­i­tary forces oper­at­ing in the West­ern Pacif­ic. The capa­bil­i­ty still is lim­it­ed, but it can grow in num­bers and accu­ra­cy, the offi­cial said.

Chi­na has the most active bal­lis­tic and cruise mis­sile devel­op­ment pro­gram in the world. The Chi­nese are devel­op­ing new class­es of mis­siles, upgrad­ing oth­ers and work­ing on coun­ter­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile defens­es.

At sea, China’s navy has the largest force of prin­ci­pal com­bat­ant sub­marines and amphibi­ous war­fare ships in Asia. Chi­na con­tin­ues to invest heav­i­ly in nuclear-pow­ered sub­marines and diesel elec­tric boats. It’s also build­ing an air­craft car­ri­er and oth­er com­bat­ant sur­face ships.

The Chi­nese are also devel­op­ing space and cyber capa­bil­i­ties, pur­su­ing the abil­i­ty to dom­i­nate across the spec­trum of infor­ma­tion in all its dimen­sions on mod­ern bat­tle space, the offi­cial said.

“China’s invest­ment in advanced elec­tron­ic war­fare sys­tems, coun­ter­space weapons and com­put­er net­work oper­a­tions reflect the empha­sis and pri­or­i­ty China’s lead­ers place on build­ing capa­bil­i­ty in these areas,” the senior defense offi­cial said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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