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Time for China and U.S. to Improve Military Trust and Transparency

Apr 01 , 2011
  • Yang Yi

    Former Director, University of National Defense

Military modernization is an important component of China’s four modernizations and a vital safeguard in its national renaissance and peaceful development. However China’s military modernization has sparked the concern of the United States, the world’s largest military power. Consequently, if the modernization is handled poorly it will probably provoke a “security dilemma” in Sino-U.S. relations.

As far as overall relations between China and the United States are concerned, the bilateral relationship in security, and especially in military matters, lags far behind those in other areas. In a sense, the Sino-U.S. military relationship is harboring many “zero-sum” leftovers, as if the growth and development of one side amounts to a threat and challenge to the other. Moreover, the approach of “taking a seat according to a ticket number” is widespread and serious in bilateral military relations.

The United States assumes that China’s sustained and rapid economic growth, the growth of its comprehensive national strength, and the speeding-up of its military modernization, in essence China’s powerfulness, are bound to pose a challenge to the U.S.’s regional and global hegemony. Therefore, the building-up, deployment and adjustment of the U.S. military, and the U.S. reinforcement of regional military alliances, are increasingly focusing on China. It is as if every single action of China’s military modernization, be it the so-called aircraft carrier “killer,” the ballistic missile DF-21D, or the stealth fighter J20, is invariably directed at the United States.

China adheres to a road of peaceful development, pursues a defensive national defense policy, and poses no threat to any country. It is quite normal for a country to take advantage of science and technology developments to modernize and upgrade its arms equipment to meet the needs of building a national defense force. China’s arms development is entirely for self-security, for the defense of sovereignty, and territorial integrity. It is not directed at any country or at any particular target. China will never claim hegemony and never pursue military expansion, let alone conduct a hare-and-tortoise styled arms race with the United States.

China should strive to resolve the “security dilemma” in Sino-U.S. military relations, at the same time as strengthening its military power. It should more confidently outlay its strategic transparency to dispel outdated perceptions. In fact once the window dressing is removed, others will stop guessing and being suspicious and have no cause to unjustly mistrust China.

Another important approach lies in the strategic communication between the two countries. China should candidly explain to the United States that the PLA has neither the ability nor the desire to challenge its regional and global military supremacy. The only goal of China’s military modernization is to defend its national security interests which in turn will benefit the international environment.

Here, U.S. strategic focus is the key. As the stronger side and the world superpower, the United States should discard its Cold War mentality and not regard China’s military development –the navy, air force and strategic deterrent forces – as a threat to America. China’s national interests are growing and it is making a greater contribution to international well-being in terms of maintaining regional security, stability and prosperity.

China maintains the largest peacekeeping force of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Chinese navy convoy that combated pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Somalia is increasingly praised by the international community. On average, the rate of China’s defense and military modernization is far from meeting the requirements of maintaining its own national security and underpinning its growing national interests, let alone posing any threat to U.S. security or its regional and global interests.

Finally, the two militaries of China and the United States have to strengthen their cooperation in dealing with various challenges to regional and global security. The world is immense, and so are the Pacific Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean. They are big enough to accommodate the development and activities of the two forces of China and the United States. The nations should therefore increase their bilateral military exchanges at all levels, strengthen mutual strategic confidence, eradicate the “zero-sum” mentality and create a “win-win” situation for both.

As long as each side has the will to strengthen cooperation and avoid “lose-lose” outcomes, the two forces, particularly the navies, will have more room for cooperation, especially to deal with non-traditional security issues. Thus, they can not only make a contribution to regional and world peace, but also enhance strategic mutual confidence, minimize misunderstanding and avoid strategic misjudgment between the two militaries.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi is former director of Institute for Strategic Studies, National Defense University of PLA

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