The Importance of the US-China Partnership ; Trade Keeps US-China Relations Warm, but Other Issues Could Bring a Cold Front

Article excerpt

While Iraq and Iran are front and center for the Bush administration's foreign policy managers, the most significant single relationship for the United States in the coming decade may be that with China.

China in recent years has achieved incredible economic development, growing at an astonishing rate. It has launched a vigorous new diplomatic campaign throughout the world, not the least to tie up new sources of oil for its growing needs. It is now the world's second-largest consumer and third-largest importer of oil. It has become a major player on the world stage. Its communist leaders assert that its new international prominence is all part of what it calls its "Peaceful Development Road" policy.

But it has also been building up its military power. Small wonder, then, that US-China watchers are paying special attention to the release last week of the Pentagon's annual report to Congress on the state of China's military.

The report finds the People's Liberation Army transforming itself from a mass army designed for protracted wars of attrition on its territory to a more modern force capable of fighting short- duration, high-intensity conflicts against high-tech adversaries. China's ability to sustain military power at a distance is limited. But the Pentagon assessment says that China has the "greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional US military advantages."

This new buildup has troubled US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who pondered publicly last year: "Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?" The Pentagon claims there is a lack of transparency about Chinese intentions and believes actual Chinese expenditure on military programs is between two and three times greater than officially disclosed figures.

The latest Pentagon assessment is that in the near-term, China's military buildup is probably focused on preparing for "Taiwan Strait contingencies, including the possibility of US intervention." China has deployed more than 700 mobile and short-range ballistic missiles in its coastal garrisons opposite Taiwan, and has boosted its ground- force military personnel in the three military regions opposite Taiwan to 400,000. It has more than 700 combat aircraft based within range of Taiwan and is acquiring advanced fighter aircraft from Russia.

The US treads a delicate path in the region. …