China-US military exchanges expanding despite divergences

Military interaction has always been seen as the barometer for the health of the China-US relations. In 2013, China and the US reached an agreement to establish a new type of China-US military relationship, under the framework of a new type of great power relationship, a new diplomatic concept hailed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Barack Obama at the Sunnylands meeting in California last year.

In 2013, China-US military exchanges featured a number of notable events, such as a two-day anti-piracy training mission in the Gulf of Aden and an actual-troop live-ammunition military drill in Hawaii, which were described as breakthroughs in the cooperation between the two militaries.

Besides joint military exercise, high-level exchange is also a crucial part of the building of a new type of the China-US military relationship. According to China's Ministry of Defense, several reciprocal visits by the two countries' high-ranking military officials, including US Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army Fang Fenghui, have been put on the agenda.

In order to strengthen the mutual trust between the two militaries, China and the US have decided to establish two major mechanisms: the notification mechanism for major military activities and the code of conduct for naval and air security.

Xue Litai, a researcher with the Center for International Security and Cooperation at the Stanford University, said that collaboration and contradiction will coexist in the China-US military interaction in 2014, citing concern about Hagel's remarks at last year's Shangri-la Dialogue, in which he reaffirmed US pivot to Asia, which is widely seen as a strategic policy aimed at China.

The US, whose maritime supremacy has never been challenged over the 35 years since the establishment of the diplomatic ties with China, has started flexing muscles in the Pacific Ocean, where China is developing its blue-water navy, a move that is fueled by the Obama administration's strategy of rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region.

On December 5, 2013, the USS Cowpens, a US guided missile cruiser, had a near-collision with an escort ship of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, which was conducting a training mission in the South China Sea.

"We (China and the US) should try hard to fend off the "Thucydides Trap". The notion that hegemony is the only goal a powerful nation should seek is not suitable for China. And China does not have the gene to do so innately," said Chinese President Xi in an interview, amid speculation that the rising China will challenge US hegemony. The "Thucydides Trap" is a terminology used to describe a scenario in which if a rising power challenges a ruling power, a war often ensues.

Military expert Wang Haiyun called for the deepening of the China-US strategic mutual trust, especially when the US is determined to maintain its maritime hegemony in the Pacific Ocean, warning that the threat from Japan, a key US ally, which has territorial disputes with China over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, will expand the possibility of China-US skirmishes to islets, reefs and shoals.

Despite the fact that China and the US remain divided on the approach to deal with military conflict, enforcement of international law, establishment of the future international order and settlement of the regional issues, the two countries sill have enough leeway to develop their cooperation in the fields of politics, military and economy, especially at a time when they have common interest in coping with global terrorism, North Korean nuclear issue, Middle Eastern turmoil and climate change.

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