To protest the US's arms sales to Taiwan, China halted contact
between the two nations' militaries, which has expanded in recent
months to include study tours and naval exercises. China also
threatened Tuesday to retaliate against US companies involved in the
Twelve months of friendly American diplomatic overtures and weeks
of private warnings were not enough. Since Washington announced last
week a $6.4 billion weapons sale to Taiwan, an island Beijing
regards as a renegade province, China has vented its anger just as
fiercely as ever.
Deflating United States' hopes that this time it would be
different, China immediately suspended contacts between the two
countries' militaries, just as it did in 2008 reacting to a previous
US arms deal with Taipei.
The move disappointed US military planners who had looked forward
to better and more stable relations with their Chinese counterparts.
"I'd hoped that in the future we could shield the military-to-
military relationship from the political ups and downs," Defense
Secretary Robert Gates said Monday. "I think that we have a lot to
learn from each other."
Mr. Gates's own planned trip to China this year is now up in the
air as a result of the Chinese decision.
So are a range of activities that mostly happen in the shadows,
such as study visits by Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA)
officers to US universities like the National Defense University in
Washington, reciprocal study tours by US officers at Chinese
institutions, and naval exercises. The Pentagon has been building
such ties quietly, as it warily pursues engagement with a potential
Gates said he hoped the suspension would be temporary, because
"stability is enhanced by contact between our military and a greater
understanding of each others' strategies."
Engagement, however wary
In testimony last month to the House Armed Services Committee,
the new head of US Pacific Command, Adm. Robert Willard, warned that
China's "stated goals of a defense-oriented military capability ...
appear incompatible with the extent of sophisticated weaponry China
"Reconciling these two can only occur through continuous frank
conversations and mutual actions within a strong and mature military-
to-military relationship," Willard said. Such a relationship, he
added, "does not yet exist with the People's Liberation Army."
The Chinese military is also keen to maintain contacts, says Yan
Xuetong, head of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua
University in Beijing. "China wants to know more about American
military details," he says, "and the talks have some diplomatic use
to give the US more confidence in China."
The public relationship between the Chinese and US military is
conducted through a series of joint bodies that meet every six
months or so to address issues ranging from strategic global matters
to the safety of seamen. …