USA/China — Gates Urges Positive U.S.-China Military Relations

SINGAPORE — Eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal coop­er­a­tion between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na has flour­ished despite dif­fer­ences over U.S. arms sales to Tai­wan, and the same should be true of the mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the two coun­tries, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

9th International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore, June 5, 2010
U.S. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates speaks at the 9th Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, The Shangri-La Dia­logue, in Sin­ga­pore, June 5, 2010.
DoD pho­to by U.S. Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Jer­ry Mor­ri­son
Click to enlarge

In a speech open­ing the first ple­nary ses­sion of the ninth annu­al “Shangri-La Dia­logue,” an Asia secu­ri­ty sum­mit orga­nized by the Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, Gates not­ed that although the arms sales have been going on for decades, Chi­na has cit­ed them as its rea­son for break­ing off inter­ac­tions between the U.S. and Chi­nese mil­i­taries. “For a vari­ety of rea­sons,” Gates said, “this makes lit­tle sense.” He point­ed out that U.S. arms sales to Tai­wan have been going on through­out the decades since the 1979 nor­mal­iza­tion of rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. In addi­tion, he said, the Unit­ed States has demon­strat­ed for years that it does not sup­port inde­pen­dence for Tai­wan. “Noth­ing – I repeat, noth­ing – has changed in that stance,” he said.

And because China’s accel­er­at­ing mil­i­tary buildup focus­es large­ly on Tai­wan, Gates added, U.S. arms sales are impor­tant to main­tain­ing peace and sta­bil­i­ty across the Strait of Tai­wan and through­out the region.

Con­sid­er­ing all this, he said, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s deci­sion in Jan­u­ary to sell select­ed defen­sive weapons to Tai­wan should have come as no sur­prise.

“It was based on well-estab­lished prece­dent and the long­stand­ing belief of the U.S. gov­ern­ment that a peace­ful and non-coerced res­o­lu­tion to the Tai­wan issue is an abid­ing nation­al inter­est, and vital for the over­all secu­ri­ty of Asia,” the sec­re­tary said.

Though the Unit­ed States and Chi­na dis­agree on this mat­ter, Gates told the del­e­gates, U.S. arms sales to Tai­wan over the decades since nor­mal­iza­tion have not imped­ed clos­er polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic ties or clos­er ties in oth­er secu­ri­ty are­nas of mutu­al inter­est.

“Only in the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary are­na has progress on crit­i­cal mutu­al secu­ri­ty issues been held hostage over some­thing that is, quite frankly, old news,” he said. “It should be clear to every­one now – more than 30 years after nor­mal­iza­tion – that inter­rup­tions in our mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship with Chi­na will not change Unit­ed States pol­i­cy toward Tai­wan.” Oba­ma and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao have advo­cat­ed a pos­i­tive mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between their coun­tries, Gates not­ed. “The Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Defense wants what both Pres­i­dents Oba­ma and Hu want: sus­tained and reli­able mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary con­tacts at all lev­els that reduce mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mis­un­der­stand­ing and mis­cal­cu­la­tion,” he said.

The absence of mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships between the Unit­ed States and Chi­na has a cost, Gates added. “I believe they are essen­tial to region­al secu­ri­ty and essen­tial to devel­op­ing a broad, resilient U.S.-China rela­tion­ship that is pos­i­tive in tone, coop­er­a­tive in nature and com­pre­hen­sive in scope,” he said. “The Unit­ed States, for its part, is ready to work toward these goals.”

Gates had hoped to vis­it Bei­jing while he was in the region to attend the Shangri-La Dia­logue, but Chi­nese offi­cials con­veyed the mes­sage recent­ly that the tim­ing wasn’t right. While en route to Sin­ga­pore ear­li­er this week, the sec­re­tary expressed his cha­grin to reporters.

“I’m dis­ap­point­ed that the [People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army] lead­er­ship has not seen the same poten­tial ben­e­fits from this kind of a mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship as their own lead­er­ship and the Unit­ed States seem to think would be of ben­e­fit,” he said.

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