The Pentagon next week hosts the highest-level Chinese military visit to the US since Beijing severed ties between the two armed forces early last year in protest over a US$6.3 billion US arms deal with Taiwan.
The visit by General Chen Bingde (陳炳德), chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, and seven other generals comes amid warming Sino-US ties following Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) first state visit to the US in January, US military officials said.
In addition to meeting his US counterpart, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chen will visit US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and members of Congress and will speak at the National Defense University on the bilateral military relations.
Officials hope the visit will begin to turn around a relationship that in recent years has often been overshadowed by tensions caused by US arms sales to Taiwan and US concerns about China’s rapid military expansion.
“The lack of high-level and -sustained military-to-military engagement means that the whole of the US-China relationship remains unbalanced,” said Cheung Tai Ming, a senior fellow at the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
Mullen, chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, hopes the visit will lead to establishment of more frequent contact with Chen, such as regular phone calls, to enable them to “develop a bit of a relationship,” a senior military official said.
“The region and the world really expect our two militaries to have an institutionalized relationship,” the official said, in which “there is some trust and transparency between us” and miscommunications or mishaps do not inadvertently spin out of control.
While Mullen and Gates have been pushing to institutionalize contacts between the two militaries, it is not clear if China is ready for such a move.
Chen told a visiting US delegation last month that arms sales to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, were still the biggest obstacle facing the -military-to-military relationship.
The issue of Taiwan arms sales is likely to be raised during Chen’s visit, but will not be solved and US officials will try to make the point that it should not prevent establishing a “positive and durable relationship,” a US military official said.
China suspended its military links with the US in January last year after US President Barack Obama’s administration announced US$6.3 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, including Patriot anti-missile systems and Apache attack helicopters.
Ties remained severed through much of last year before tentative contacts resumed in the final months of the year. Meanwhile, the US and others in the region have watched with concern as China’s military displayed a growing military aggressiveness while rapidly expanding its military.
In a show of muscle, China confirmed it had held its first test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter during a January visit to Beijing by Gates. Rapid development of the fighter to counter the US F-22 Raptor stealth fighter caught some by surprise.
It is also possible China will launch its first aircraft carrier later this year.
Chinese ships shadowing US vessels in the South China Sea and Beijing’s surprise launch of a missile that destroyed an inactive Chinese satellite in 2007 have raised worries about the risk of dangerous missteps, especially as China’s military increasingly rubs up against US forces in Asia.