China-U.S. mil-to-mil relationship: Stabilizer or uncertainty in bilateral relations?

Chen Zhuo
2019-06-08 16:23:51

One can hardly imagine the two biggest militaries confronting each other in the post-Cold War era. But the escalating trade disputes and their spillovers, in addition to long-standing issues on Taiwan and the South China Sea, might raise concerns for the worst-case scenario. How do we examine the rising tensions in what is called the "Indo-Pacific region?" Can we count on the China-U.S. mil-to-mil relationship to serve as a stabilizer for the bilateral relations?

Major General Xu Hui, Commandant of International College of Defense Studies at the National University of the PLA, said that China's military strategy is active defense rather than preemptive attack. Active defense adopts reflective practices that respect the UN Charter of no use of force while preemption strategy takes the military tools as the first choice.

General Xu also noted that there are four components of the active defense strategy. Number one is deterring aggression. Number two is to fight and win wars because the capability to win is the foundation for deterring aggression and innovation. Number three is crisis management since we are living in the new nuclear age and major countries must learn to manage possible undesirable scenarios. The last but not least is cooperative security.

"Chinese PLA is ready to cooperate with all counterparts in the world that include the United States of America in dealing or addressing our common challenges," claimed General Xu.

China's PLA armed forces safeguard not only peace and prosperity but also "Asian values" advocated by Dr. Mahathir and Lee Kuan Yew. In his opinion, General Xu summarized "Asian values" into three yeses and three nos.

"Three yeses mean we insist on mutual respect and peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit. And three nos mean no use of force, no intervention in internal affairs and no hurry." General Xu elaborated on the major principles of ASEAN's way to maintain regional peace and development, as well as peacefully managing the disputes and differences among the nations in the region for common development.

Drew Thompson, former Director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia for the U.S. Secretary of Defense, complimented the professionalism and the comfort between China and U.S. militaries. He thinks there are a lot of functional mechanisms that underlie the relationship.

"Despite geostrategic tensions, the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship is quite stable, quite respectful and quite equal," said Thompson.

Thompson brought up the architecture of the bilateral relationship that includes high-level dialogues and visits, more functional structured policy dialogues and operational dialogues.

"The two sides have this layered approach towards managing the relationship that provides venues for explaining and sharing information, and preventing miscalculation or misperception," concluded Thompson.

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