Foreign Affairs
US, China seek to advance military-to-military ties in strategic talks
Last Updated: 2013-07-08 10:04 | Xinhua
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As U.S. and Chinese officials are to meet for their fifth Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) this week, some American experts say both sides are likely to use the mechanism trying to advance military-to-military relationship between the two countries.

Jonathan Pollack, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings Institution, told Xinhua in a recent interview that significant progress has been made since the two militaries began their regular contacts several years ago, and in fact, the relationship of the two militaries is in a "more comfortable" spot right now.

"There are a number of references from a number of senior (U.S.) military officials have made about (Deputy Chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army of China) Qi Jianguo as interlocutor, there seems to be a comfort level with him that is very, very promising," said Pollack, "From my understanding there' s an effort to diversify and further develop" the military-to- military relationship between the two countries.

Military-to-military relationship between the United States and China has seen great strides in recent years. During their summit last month in California, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama agreed to find a new way to manage their differences and actively foster a new type of military relations commensurate with the new type of major-country relationship.

Pollack said President Xi's "personal identification with this issue" bodes well for the talks ahead. He said disagreements between the two sides persist, but only "to the degree both sides recognize the strategic stakes, recognize that you cannot have a stable, long-term U.S.-China relationship if the military to military relationship is somehow outside that process."

There's likely "an increased effort to try to... find more rules of the road" and define an overall pattern that "issues with the moment" do not disrupt or interfere with overall military to military relationship, said Pollack.

ISSUES WITH THE MOMENT

That is not to say the two sides wouldn't be distracted by issues with the moment. The U.S. accusations against China on cyber security and the recent revelation that the U.S. side has been engaged in vast data mining and internet surveillance have shown there may be more than a few bumps on the road for the bilateral relationship. Disagreements over issues concerning the East and South China Seas may also prove troublesome, while there are demands for the two sides to cooperate in regional and global security, including Korean Peninsula denuclearization.

Experts are expecting all those issues, along with missile defense, space, maritime and anti-proliferation, to be significantly featured in the upcoming talks -- the fifth Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) that is scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. on Wednesday and Thursday. The S&ED mechanism, which used to be merely a platform for economic dialogue between the U.S. and China, has expanded to include Strategic Security Dialogue (SSD) since 2011.

"The agenda depends on what's important in the relationship at the time," said Richard Bush, another China expert at Brookings. " But those issues are very important because they involve new issues in the relationship. It's very easy to make mistakes when you move to new issues."

Pollack, on the other hand, stressed the importance of keeping the process going, rather than dwelling on the "pecking order" of the issues to be featured in the talks.

"The meeting could go in many different ways, but I think we focus a little too much on what's the pecking order, when all these issues are important," said Pollack, noting a successful outcome of the meeting should indicate "is there a common ground on which both sides can meet to have a serious, sustained discussion, not only in the context of the SSD, but be sustained over a longer period of time."

Pollack believed the meetings must be "more than just talk," and in his view, the two sides "are trying to see if they can use this format but build upon it in a significant way, rather than make it just a kind of one-shot transaction."

He suggested the two sides strengthen the consultation process that "builds between the (annual) meetings, rather than just relying on one brief meeting to address strategic issues between the two sides."

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