If their bands can make music together, can the US and Chinese militaries strike a better note as well?
That was at least the hope as the premier military bands from China and the US performed together in Washington on Monday, launching a visit by top brass from China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) meant to improve often icy relations.
General Chen Bingde (陳炳德), chief of the general staff of the PLA, and seven other generals are leading the PLA’s first trip to the US since Beijing severed military ties last year in protest over a US$6.3 billion US arms deal with Taiwan.
The concert, in which both bands played together after solo performances, was the first public event during the weeklong trip in which Chen will meet top officials at the Pentagon, US Department of State and White House.
All are hoping to build on momentum improving Sino-US ties following Chinese President Hu Jintao’s (胡錦濤) first state visit to the US in January.
“We think this is a great opportunity for the two militaries’ armies, in particular in this case, to come together and to begin to get to know each other,” US Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey said to reporters before the concert.
China’s rapid military buildup has raised eyebrows in Washington, including its test flight of the J-20 stealth fighter during a January visit to Beijing by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. It also is 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.
Chen, in a sign of Chinese willingness to engage, is expected to take questions from US military officers today after a speech at the National Defense University in Washington. While those events will likely focus on areas of friction, including China’s military buildup and US arms sales, a US official said the agenda was not designed to focus on those issues.
“We don’t expect this to be a contentious meeting and certainly the agenda is not designed to focus on areas of outstanding disagreement,” the official said. “We expect this to be along the trend of a warming in relations, really with the momentum carried on by the President Hu visit.”