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Joint drills enhance Sino-US military cooperation

China and US navy conduct the first humanitarian relief drill in Hawaii on November 12. Photos:

The US and Chinese militaries will hold the first humanitarian relief drill in Hawaii between November 12-14, according to an announcement by China’s National Defense Ministry on November 8.

This is the second joint military exercise by the two nations this year, after an anti-piracy joint drill this August. They plan to hold a Pacific Rim joint drill next June. 

 “Although recent years have witnessed several co-operations in the field, such high frequency is unprecedented,” Yin Zhuo (尹卓), PLA major general and the director of Chinese Navy Information Expert Committee, told China Press. “Obviously, the move shows that the bilateral relationship is heading toward a promising future. And clearly, more joint drills would enhance Sino-American military mutual trust. Meanwhile, we believe the new relationship between the big powers should avoid actions that are of ‘deep concern’ to the other party. That is to say, we should avoid complications brought by arms sales.”

Building trust

On November 5, Adm. Samuel Locklear, the US Pacific Command, announced at a press conference that the upcoming joint drill would help China and US militaries to further build mutual trust.

According to Locklear, although it’s hard to guarantee the two countries would agree with each other on all things, as long as the two could continuously deepen communications, the risks of misperception and miscalculation could be mitigated. The Sino-American military relations are heading in ‘the right direction’, which is in accord with the mutual consensus of establishing new patterns of relations between the two big powers in the world.

Yin echoed the view, noting that the military cooperation would not only help strengthen political ties, but could also play an active role in the field of military security.

“At present, the two countries are running several exchange programs, like the dialogue between national defense departments, and regular exchanges between top generals and senior commands. Although the current dialogues have succeeded in maintaining a good relationship, to effectively enhance mutual trust, direct communication between grass-roots units should also be established,” said Yin.

According to a China-related report on military and security issued by the US National Security Department this May, China is pushing for military modernization and China-US military cooperation is gaining momentum, especially after February of 2012, when the then Vice President Xi Jinping visited the Pentagon, laying foundation for subsequent military cooperation. The two armies began to discuss concrete plans from 2010.

According to David Helvey, an assistant to the Pentagon deputy chief in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs, from now on, the US would take advantage of Sino-American military collaboration to extend the ties into new areas.

During a meeting in June, Obama and Xi agreed on establishing new military relations and the two believed that concrete progress could be achieved in the field.

Future cooperation

The US Defense Department also listed a 2013 cooperative plan in the aforementioned report, which includes the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission or the Minister of National Defense visiting America, and the US military chief Martin Dempsey visiting China.

This not only indicates the joint drill was a planned thing, but proves the China-US military cooperation is heading for higher levels and becomes more transparency.

General Yin Zhuo explained military exchange has long been an established mechanism since the two countries recovered diplomatic ties. Normally, the military attache's offices would be responsible for mapping out exact future plans which would then be authorized by the top leaders and approved by the Congress.

Since the 199Os, the contact between the two militaries was suspended six times, including at the time of Lee Teng-hui (李登辉)’s visit to the US in 1995, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999, the US spy plane incident in 2001 and the three high-profile arms sales to Taiwan respectively in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

“The mutual trust between the Chinese and US militaries has been enhanced considerably in the past year, although things like US arms sales to Taiwan would continue to bring uncertainties. In the past we would simply shut down the contacts, but in the future, in the context of a new relationship, I’m not sure about our possible moves. But one thing is for sure—we would not do nothing and shed tears as victim,” said Yin.

China and US navy conduct the first humanitarian relief drill in Hawaii on November 12.

Pacific-Rim joint drill

The planned Pacific-Rim joint drill next June would be a significant event in China-US military ties.

Before last year, some Chinese media and military commentators had conjectured that the biennial drill, which includes over 20 countries, would be targeted at China, especially when Russia joined the drill in 2012.

When US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited China in September 2012, he invited China to join in the 2014 Pacific-Rim joint drill, and this June, when Xi and Obama held meetings in the Annenberg Hall, China formally received the invitation.

“The interaction sends out positive signals,” said Zhao Xiaozhuo (赵小卓), a senior colonel and the deputy director of the Research Center on Sino-American Defense Ties, PLA Academy of Military Science, “The US intended to send out a message that the drill is not targeted at China and China responded that as a responsible big power in the world, it is willing to play an active role in regional peace and stability.”

Yin believes China’s role in the Pacific-Rim joint drill will have a profound influence on mutual trust between China and US militaries.

“The fact is that we have just taken one step forward, and we are now in a preliminary phase,” said Yin, “We should be clear that there would be a process—the bilateral cooperation would move from the foundation phase to development phase, from the simple to the comprehensive.”

 He emphasized that it’s hoped that this time the US would delegate roles on the basis of military competence other than ideologies.

However, the Pentagon seems totally relaxed on the matter. A spokesman for US Navy was quoted as saying, “We’re assured that we have the ability to plan a drill that could satisfy every party and meanwhile achieve their separate goals.”

“Not everything has been determined at the moment. The programs we could get involved in will determine the level of trust our militaries could gain. Meanwhile, it is objective to say that having the opportunity to join is better than nothing,” Yin added.

(The article is translated by Rebecca Lin)

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