US-China Military Dialogue Is Needed

By Harlan W. Jencks. Harlan W. Jencks is senior research associate of the International Missile Proliferation Project Monterey Institute of International Studies research associate of the Center of Chinese Studies of California, Berkeley. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 3, 1992 | Go to article overview

US-China Military Dialogue Is Needed


Harlan W. Jencks. Harlan W. Jencks is senior research associate of the International Missile Proliferation Project Monterey Institute of International Studies research associate of the Center of Chinese Studies of California, Berkeley., The Christian Science Monitor


ON June 5, 1989, President Bush announced a series of measures to convey to the Chinese government American revulsion at the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Among these was suspension of "high-level contacts" (deputy secretary level or higher) between the American and Chinese militaries.

Since then, every other part of the United States government has resumed contacts with its counterpart organizations in China, yet there is still a virtual ban on contacts with the Chinese military by anyone in the Defense Department except US attaches in Beijing. This is seriously inhibiting American nonproliferation efforts.

If the US is serious about slowing the spread of weapons and missile technologies, it is past time to resume contacts at all levels with the Chinese People's Liberation Army. PLA organizations are among China's most dangerous and flagrant arms exporters. If the US doesn't talk to the Chinese military, it is not talking to the Chinese who can really do something about limiting weapons proliferation.

This is not to say that the US should resume arms transfers to China, nor that it should reconstruct friendly military-to-military relations. Quite the contrary. The US needs to convey some strong messages to the PLA regarding arms control and nonproliferation. US Department of Defense personnel, military and civilian, must convey American concerns to the Chinese who make crucial decisions about those matters.

With whom in China are we negotiating currently? The State Department talks to its counterparts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, Chinese diplomats are ignorant about much of what the PLA is doing, including arms transfers and proliferation matters.

A telling illustration occurred in June 1991, when a spokesman for China's Foreign Affairs Ministry admitted that China had sold "very small quantities of short-range tactical missiles" to Pakistan.

When asked by reporters if they were M-11 missiles, he responded, "We don't call it the M-11, but you call it the M-11." In fact, M-11 is a Chinese designation which has been used in their missile-sales literature for several years; the ministry spokesman simply did not know that.

The US is denying itself an important line of communication; effectively letting influential Chinese military leaders off the hook. …

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