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China-U.S. military ties grow as countries eye each other at sea

By Bloomberg News

LAST UPDATED: 06:14 a.m. HST, Sep 30, 2013

China's official People's Daily newspaper lambasted the U.S. when it led the most recent RIMPAC naval drill, the Pacific Ocean military simulation held every other year. The 22-nation exercise reflected Washington's bid to "contain the military rise of another country," it said.

Next year, Chinese ships will join the Rim of the Pacific exercise for the first time. During a visit to the Pentagon last month, Foreign Minister Wang Yi described military ties as a "bright spot" in the U.S.-China relationship.

Wang's words and China's participation reflect a changed attitude as the world's two biggest militaries boost contacts despite competing for influence in the Asia-Pacific, home to shipping lanes and resource reserves. The closer ties will be tested as China grows more assertive in a region dotted with nations that would call for U.S. help if attacked.

"The competition and conflicts between China and the U.S. will still be there, but it will prevent them from escalating to an unmanageable level," Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said by phone. "It is preventable diplomacy rather than positive cooperation."

U.S.-China ties will be on display at next week's Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders meeting in Bali. China's territorial disputes in the South China Sea may be discussed, along with changing U.S. and Chinese roles in the region.

Rising Competition

Military competition between the the U.S. and China is on the rise even as the two foster closer links, with China's defense budget more than doubling since 2006. Though its military spending is less than one-fifth of the U.S., China has developed drones, stealth fighters and an aircraft carrier while deploying a type of anti-ship ballistic missile the U.S. says is meant to threaten U.S. carriers in the region.

That buildout comes as China has pushed its territorial claims more forcefully in the South and East China seas and as the U.S. Navy plans to move more forces to the region in a strategic shift.

China's naval expansion "is largely about countering" the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Captain James Fanell, deputy chief of staff for intelligence and information operations at the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaii, said in a January presentation at a conference in San Diego.

Mutual Defense

"They want to have the capability to make sure that events do not occur in those three seas that they do not approve of," said Bernard Cole, a former Navy officer who teaches at the National War College in Washington, referring to the Yellow, East and South China seas. "The problem from a U.S. perspective is that we have mutual defense treaties with South Korea, Japan and the Philippines."

Recent contacts offer a counterpoint to unease on both sides. In August, China's Defense Minister Chang Wanquan visited the Pentagon and the commander of China's navy, Admiral Wu Shengli, got a tour of a U.S. Los Angeles-class attack submarine in San Diego in September. Also last month, three Chinese ships joined search-and-rescue exercises with the U.S. off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

RIMPAC is held by the U.S. Pacific Fleet in seas around the Hawaiian islands. The exercises once trained for conflict with the Soviet Union and later included Russia as a participant. China was an observer to the drills in 1998.

Attend Exercise

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi announced China would attend the exercise after a summit between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping in California in June. During the talks, the two vowed to build "a new type of military relations," Yang said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

"This is to us a very visible manifestation of the idea that a rising China can provide a positive contribution to international security," U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said of China's participation in RIMPAC when he visited Beijing Sept. 10.

Still, closer ties between the U.S. and the People's Liberation Army can be reversed, Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said by phone. The visits and the RIMPAC exercises are the "warm fuzzies of military diplomacy," he said.

U.S. reconnaissance as well as arms sales to Taiwan remain problems in the military relationship with China, Zhao Xiaozhuo, a researcher with the PLA Academy of Military Science, wrote in the People's Daily in August.

Sensitive Information

China's participation in RIMPAC sparked concern in the U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, introduced an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act seeking to limit Chinese exposure to "sensitive information obtained through military-to-military contacts."

"This it not like turning over an entirely new leaf, this is just one small step forward to develop a slightly more positive relationship with the PLA," Bitzinger said. "There's going to be steps forward and steps backward. And every time there's a step backward generally U.S.-allied ties get stronger."

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localguy wrote:
Basically China is the new kid on the block with some brand new toys (Military) but no, zero, nada, zilch, combat experience on how to use them. They have a completely virgin military which makes them dangerous. Remember the unprofessional Chinese fighter pilot who got too aggressive with his fighter against the US Navy observation plane. Rookie Chinese pilot lost his life, our crew survived thanks to their higher skill level. Even the Russians for all their vaunted military power failed to safely maintain and operate their nuclear submarines, they ended up on the scrap heap. Time will tell how the Chinese military grows up, for now lets just sit back and watch the new kid mess up the new toys.
on September 30,2013 | 06:31AM
pcman wrote:
Development of peaceful combined operations in the Pacific and Asia requires the inclusion of China because they have resources and capabilities that the US and its allies standing alone do not have. Combined operations includes several countries in multilateral or coalition situations, for which there are no existing standing agreements. Peaceful operations includes humanitarian relief which involves the use of military hardware and personnel to save and lives from border and internal conflicts and requiring noncombatant and civilian relocation and support. Natural disasters include tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic events and typhoons. China is located in the center of the Pacific and Asia where there are sea ports and airfields that could be used in emergencies. China also has people, food, clothes, other resources, etc., that could be needed in a few hours when the same are days away in the US. Engagement with China makes more sense today than waiting forever for their military to evolve.
on September 30,2013 | 07:09AM
localguy wrote:
pcman - Exactly what resources and capabilities do the Chinese have that no one else has? They have a virgin military, no carrier experience, no combat trained pilots, no professional NCOs to manage their military. What are you talking about?
on September 30,2013 | 07:37AM
juscasting wrote:
I think what he is saying is that " put a gun in an untrained persons hand, and you better run or duck!"
on September 30,2013 | 11:44AM
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