December 07, 2010

ADM Mullen on U.S.-China Military Exchanges

ADM Mullen paid a visit to the Center for American Progress last week to talk about U.S.-Chinese military-to-military exchanges.
The Chinese suspended such exchanges earlier this year over U.S. arms
sales to Taiwan but indicated their willingness to resume the talks at a
meeting in Hanoi in October.

What is likely to come out of the
mil-to-mil exchanges? The admiral is hoping for progress on mutual
security issues such as stability on the Korean peninsula, shipping lane
safety in the South China Sea, and assured access and equitable use of
the global commons. Both the United States and China "recognize
the emerging challenges of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, growing
global energy demands, and the geopolitical implications and stresses of
climate change
." But, the Admiral said, “Now
that both countries have agreed to resume routine contacts as part of
this important [aspect] of our relationship, the hard work really

Hard work, indeed. As the Chinese argued in the
October annual meeting under the Military Maritime Safety Consultation
Agreement (MMCA), “to establish mutual trust is the fundamental
approach” to solving disputes between the countries. The United States
has openly stated some of its suspicions. In a speech to the Asia Society in June,
ADM Mullen remarked that China’s “heavy investments of late in modern,
expeditionary maritime and air capabilities seems oddly out of step with
their stated goal of territorial defense.” Mutual trust won’t come
easy, but the admiral has pledged that the United States stands ready to
its part.

One element of a successful exchange, like a
negotiation, is an understanding of what is important to the party
across the table. For China, a major concern is territorial
sovereignty, and part of that sovereignty is the natural resources of
the South China Sea. Recently, the United States has said repeatedly that it does not have a territorial interest in the South China Sea, only in freedom of navigation and maritime safety.

United States will have an opportunity to get to the table and roll up
its sleeves soon, as several dialogues are planned for the near future.
Michele Flournoy will host her Chinese counterpart at the defense talks
this week, and ADM Mullen has invited Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the
Chinese army's general staff, to visit the Pentagon. Secretary Gates is
expected to travel to Beijing next spring. Let’s hope each of these
exchanges can build on the last.