Who is to blame for strained China-U.S. military ties?
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained at a security forum
here over the weekend about China’s turning down his request for a visit
to Beijing during his Asia tour, claiming that China’s attitude “makes
There is no official confirmation from the Chinese side of Gates’
complaint. But judging from a sequence of events, it is obviously not
China, but the United States that should be blamed for the setback in
bilateral military ties.
Military-to-military relations between China and the United States
have been chilled since Washington decided in January to sell 6.4
billion U.S. dollars’ worth of military hardware to Taiwan, including
the advanced PAC-3 air defense missile system.
At the forum, General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of
the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, made it clear that main obstacles
exist in the development of bilateral military relations.
He mentioned the arms sales to Taiwan as well as frequent
reconnaissance operations by the U.S. naval ships and aircraft in the
waters and airspace of China’s exclusive economic zones and U.S.
legislation’s restrictions on bilateral military exchanges. As General
Ma stressed, “the barriers between U.S.-China military relations are not
built by China.”
However, Gates’ description of the arms sales as “nothing new”
betrayed his insufficient understanding of the severity of the issue,
which is not just an ordinary, but a serious problem disturbing the
U.S.-China relations over the past 30 years.
The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial
integrity and its core interests. In a speech to the opening session of
the second round of China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue in May,
Chinese President Hu Jintao said China and the United States should
respect each other’s core interests and major concerns.
Sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity are a country’s
most basic rights recognized by the norms governing international
relations, and to the Chinese people, nothing is more important than
safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Hu said.
According the U.S.-China joint communique of Aug. 17, 1982,
Washington promised it would gradually reduce the level of arms sales to
Taiwan, the quality and quantity of the arms sales to Taiwan will not
exceed the previous level, and will eventually figure out ways to
resolve the issue.
Regrettably, the United States has not fulfilled its obligations and
continued its arms sales to Taiwan despite protests from China. As a
result, since the establishment of bilateral relations, the high level
China-U.S. military exchanges have been in what General Ma calls a
strange cycle of “development, standstill, another development, another
China and the United States increasingly need each other to tackle
challenges facing both countries and the world, which calls for close
and sustained cooperation in military as well as political and economic
But to achieve such kind of cooperation, it does make sense for the
United States to show more understanding and respect for the feelings of
the Chinese people on issues of its core interests.