Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently visited China. This visit is a response to top Chinese General Chen Bingde's visit to the United States in May 2011. China-U.S. relations have rebounded thanks to joint efforts from both sides. Both sides should cherish this hard-won situation.
"China today is a different country than it was 10 years ago, and it certainly will continue to change over the next 10 years. It is no longer a rising power. It has, in fact, arrived as a world power," Mike Mullen said during his speed in the Renmin University, which aroused worldwide attention.
It is not a new topic to discuss whether China has become a world power. This issue has a very obvious implication regarding "China's responsibilities" in the world. It is not important what U.S. officials have said about China. What really matters is whether the United States can really treat China as an equal partner. This is especially important for the development of the military relations between the two countries.
Military exchanges often lag behind other aspects in the all-around and multi-level China-U.S. relations. The military relations between the two countries are also very weak, meaning they are often the first and the most affected when the China-U.S. relations experience ups and downs. In addition to the sensitivity of military exchanges, the fundamental reason is that military movements are often related to the core interests of both sides and have significant impact on the mentality of the people of both countries.
The United States should understand that the obstacles to exchanges between the Chinese and U.S. militaries over recent years are not the lack of transparency in China's military or the aggressive posture adopted by China. The root cause is the mentality of containment to which the United States has long clung, which lies behind its public statements. This has sometimes caused the nation to make moves threatening China's core interests. Only a country that respects other countries can win their respect.
The South China Sea issue has served as a mirror reflecting the complicated mentality and policies of the United States. When the South China Sea disputes escalated, the United States, which has the most powerful military presence in the region, just managed to show off its force and capitalize on the disputes instead of playing a role in cooling down them.
Some media agencies and scholars in the United States have publicly urged the U.S. military to intervene in the South China Sea issue. An editorial in the Washington Post even asked the Pentagon to provide the Philippines with military support. The United States, Vietnam and the Philippines held a joint drill before long, which the Philippines's media agencies interpreted as a "consolation" to the country. The moves made by the United States to artificially stir up trouble were terribly incorrect, making the situation in the South China Sea more complicated.
It is worth noting that another evil wind is brewing in Washington. Many Congress members are stepping up pressure on the Obama administration to sell more F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan. It is imaginable that if the United States continues arms sales to Taiwan, all the efforts that the United States and China have made to promote bilateral military ties will be wasted.
The issue of arms sales to Taiwan is a true test of whether the United States is able to keep pace with the times and manage its relations with China wisely. Unless the issue is completely solved, the two countries cannot develop stable military ties, which will inevitably affect their cooperation in other areas. Whether the United States has started to see China as a world power depends on its actions rather than on words. If the United States truly respects China, it should show some respect for China's core interests first.
In fact, the two countries are facing a rare opportunity to further their military ties, but it requires the joint efforts of both to turn the opportunity into reality. At present, the top priority for the United States is to show its respect for China through actions and develop bilateral relations on the basis of mutual trust, equality and mutual benefit. China deserves to be treated as such, no matter whether it is still a "rising power" or already a "world power."
Zhong Sheng is an independent analyst based in Beijing.
Source: People's Daily