U.S., China Get Back to Talking
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — U.S. and Chinese military officials are talking again, nine months after Beijing halted military-to-military exchanges in retaliation for U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, but analysts wonder whether the thaw represents much of a real warming of relations.
One set of talks, on maritime security issues, took place in Hawaii on Oct. 14-15.
Another sign of improved relations was a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie in Hanoi on Oct. 11 during a regional defense minister’s conference sponsored by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
During the meeting, Gates accepted an invitation to visit Beijing, which had cancelled Gates’ planned visit this past summer — another indication that China is ready to get back to the table.
A source with close ties to the Pentagon said the invitation and the resumption on military talks were a “quid pro quo” for allowing Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit the United States this coming January.
“Gates’ visit to China was secured prior to the Liang meeting, as I understand it. [His] visit will take place after Hu’s visit,” said the source.
Others see a connection between the White House’s Oct. 11 decision to allow the export of C-130s to China and Beijing’s cooperation on resuming military dialogue.
Yet military talks are not returning to normal, said Zhu Feng, a security analyst at Peking University’s Center for International and Strategic Studies, who views the recent moves as a new gambit in bilateral security dialogue.
Zhu says that both sides need to change the way they view dialogue. The U.S. needs to stop looking at China in the same way it looked at the old Soviet Union.
“Cold War thinking needs to end,” he said. And China needs to “attach more importance to military-to-military exchanges” and look at dialogue as an opportunity to collaborate on developing a “cooperative mechanism” on common security concerns.
Some see the C-130 export release and Gates’ invitation as evidence of successful Chinese bargaining.
“It is also consistent with the idea of ‘good cop, bad cop.’ What will the U.S. offer the Chinese civilian leadership, in light of Chinese military ‘recalcitrance’?” said Dean Cheng, a China military specialist at the Heritage Foundation.
Cheng said the Gates-Liang interaction was “not due to a genuine warming of relations between the two militaries, but atmospherics dictated from on high.” China wants the impending Hu-Obama summit to be successful and “neither wants bad military-tomilitary contacts to sour that meeting.”
The “atmospherics” could mean that there is a lack of “genuine deepening of military relations after the summit,” Cheng said. “The Chinese heart doesn’t seem to be in it.” There is also the question of what Gates’ visit will accomplish in light of the fact the secretary is a “lame duck,” he said. “How do the Chinese look upon a visit from a secretary who’s already announced he’s leaving soon?”
Another issue that continues to plague continued dialogue and cooperation is Taiwan. China continues to aim around 1,300 shortrange ballistic missiles (SRBM) at the island and the U.S. is committed to Taiwan’s defense should China attack.
China has used military sales to Taiwan as a political football. Over the past three years the Pentagon has sold over $13 billion worth arms and equipment to Taiwan. In January, the U.S. released $6.4 billion worth of arms. Now Taipei is pushing for the release of new F-16 fighters and China has called any such release a “red line.”
However, there are also hopes China will reduce the number of SRBMs aimed at Taiwan in the near future. Both sides signed an historic economic agreement earlier this year and political dialogue across the Strait is increasing.