Mullen's Visit Helps U.S.-China Military Relations
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - Last week's visit to China by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, is further evidence that military relations are improving and will continue to do so, barring new arms sales to Taiwan.
Mullen's trip follows a May visit to the U.S. by Gen. Chen Bingde, the chief of the general staff, People's Liberation Army.
Chen's admission that China was developing an anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D, was "quite candid," said Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Our two militaries need to be very direct with each other about their concerns, and answer questions about capabilities as well as intentions."
During the four-day visit, Mullen and Chen announced plans for joint exercises and continued dialogue on a variety of issues, including continued working groups under the Maritime Consultative Agreement; hospital ships of the two navies will conduct exchanges and carry out joint medical and rescue exercises and the armed forces of both sides will conduct joint humanitarian rescue exercises and anti-piracy patrol drills in the Gulf of Aden.
Both sides discussed maritime disputes in the South China Sea, cybersecurity, arms sales to Taiwan, China's military modernization, recent U.S.-Philippines joint military drills and upcoming U.S.-Vietnam naval drills.
Chen said he was "glad to witness the rejuvenation of bilateral military relations, as they are often hard-won and should be treasured." The question remains on how Taiwan will readjust to enhanced U.S.-China military relations. Taiwan is pushing the U.S. to sell it new F-16 fighters, and China has called any deal a "red line."
The timing of Mullen's visit to China appears calculated by Beijing to "short-circuit" any release of F-16s to Taiwan, said Dean Cheng, a China specialist at the Heritage Foundation. "By inviting Admiral Mullen to visit, and his decision to go, it ensured that it would be 'inconvenient' for the U.S. to jeopardize Washington-Beijing exchanges with an arms sale."
However, Mullen reminded the Chinese of U.S. laws tied to the Taiwan Relations Act that "we honor," which facilitate arms sales to Taiwan. Chen reminded Mullen that the "sole purpose" of China's force development was to "ensure territorial integrity, national security and to prevent secessionist forces from Taiwan to separate Taiwan from the country."
Another concern is how China will behave at this week's Regional Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bali where disputes over the South China Sea will be center stage. "Will the U.S. administration continue to support the Southeast Asians, or is the Mullen visit intended to signal the U.S. backing away from the position enunciated by Secretary of State Clinton a year ago?" Cheng said.
During a joint press conference with Adm. Mullen, Gen. Chen said, "China has undisputable sovereignty over islands in South China Sea and its peripheral waters." Chen also said the U.S. was committed to staying out of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
As a sign of increased rhetoric, earlier this month Shen Hong-fang, a researcher at the Center of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, said that Chinese military "hard-liners" were prepared to "launch a war against the invaders" of Chinese territory in the South China Sea and that "it is the right time to adopt necessary measures to teach some countries a lesson."
A Chinese policy analyst in Beijing said Shen was "speaking for herself" and not for the Chinese government. Shen's comments were "reckless" and a sign of the "upsurge in nationalism" that has, in many cases, "tied the hands of Chinese leaders." This has forced Beijing to take a stand on many issues that are counterproductive for the country, he said.
Mullen said China's military had conducted itself more responsibly since the 2001 EP-3 surveillance aircraft incident involving a collision with a Chinese fighter off the coast of southern China.
"I haven't seen any hot-dogging … any off-the-reservation kinds of things with respect to the Chinese military."
Though Mullen admitted there had been "some close calls" over the past 10 years, the EP-3 incident "put everybody on guard" to avoid a repeat.