U.S. Army Seeks For Better Ties With China’s Military

China-U.S Military RelationsBy Edward Wong and Andrew Jacobsfeb

A top American military commander said Saturday that the United States Army was working to start a formal dialogue and exchange program with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army before the end of the year.

The commander, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told reporters at a news conference in Beijing that the program was aimed at expanding cooperation and “managing differences constructively.”

“It really is about us focusing on a long-term relationship and the importance of us conducting exchanges, conducting institutional visits,” he said.

General Odierno made his remarks at the United States Embassy on the second day of a visit to China. The general met with Chinese counterparts in Beijing on Friday and departed China on Saturday night after a visit to the Shenyang Military Regional Command in the northeast. He was hosted there by Lt. Gen. Wang Jiaocheng, the regional commander. Together they visited an engineer regiment from the 40th Group Army.

General Odierno said the formal dialogue between American and Chinese army officials would include discussions of humanitarian relief, disaster management and peacekeeping operations. The two armies could have exchanges at institutional levels like that of training and doctrine commands, he said.

A date for the first formal meeting in the program has not been set, but General Odierno said some military officials who had come to China with him would stay to work on details. He said he hoped a date would be set during an expected visit to China in April by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The general said his visit was focused solely on laying the groundwork for senior-level exchanges between the two armies, and he said he assumed other branches of the American military would try to build similar programs with their Chinese counterparts.

In recent years, American officials have said that ties between the militaries are weak and far below the level of ties between the United States and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. This has led to growing anxieties among American military leaders.

Tensions among nations with a military presence in the Western Pacific have been on the rise in recent years. The United States is still the dominant military power in the region, and will be so for years to come, but China is rapidly building up its armed forces. Chinese officials and those of other Asian nations regularly trade sharp words over territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

The United States has said it does not take sides in the disputes, but wants to maintain freedom of navigation in the region and, more recently, has insisted that China clarify or adjust its claims in the South China Sea to ensure they are consistent with international law.

American officials have said the territorial claims must be based on land features, an assertion that negates an expansive map often called the “nine dashes” or “cow’s tongue” that the Kuomintang government of China created in the early 20th century to demarcate Chinese sovereignty in the South China Sea. Some Chinese officials in the Communist-run government continue to use that map to delineate China’s current claims.

Vietnam and the Philippines have been the most vocal opponents of Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Last month, Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that a three-ship flotilla from China performed an oath-taking ceremony on Jan. 26 by Zengmu Reef, a feature at the southernmost tip of the territory bounded by the nine dashes on the Republican-era map. Malaysia and some other nations call the feature James Shoal, and a Malaysian admiral said that, contrary to the Xinhua report, Chinese ships did not patrol in that area, which falls in what Malaysia calls its exclusive economic zone.

American officials have raised concerns over a maritime encounter in December in which a Chinese vessel came within 200 yards of the Cowpens, a Navy cruiser, in the South China Sea.

To the north, China and Japan are engaged in a diplomatic struggle over the status of a group of islands in the East China Sea that are known to the Japanese as the Senkaku and to the Chinese as the Diaoyu. Japan is the closest military ally of the United States in the Western Pacific.

Last week, Capt. James Fanell, director of intelligence of the Pacific Fleet, said the goal of war games held by China last year was to train for seizing the islands, which are uninhabited but are administered by Japan, though American military officials later played down those remarks.

China alarmed Japan, South Korea and the United States in late 2013 when it declared an Air Defense Identification Zone over a significant part of the East China Sea, requiring all aircraft entering the zone to provide identification and flight plans. United States officials have ordered American military aircraft to fly through the area without acknowledging China’s new designation. Some officials are asking when China might establish a similar air zone in the South China Sea.

General Odierno said Saturday that a formal high-level army-to-army exchange would be helpful because “throughout history, miscalculation is what has caused conflict.”

On Friday, any tensions simmering beneath the surface of American-Chinese military relations were subsumed by a day of pomp, giddy meet-and-greets and effusive mutual praise from General Odierno and the Chinese counterparts he met in the capital. The day began with the pageantry of a troop review and full military honors at China’s Defense Ministry headquarters, and General Odierno later attended a closed-door meeting with students and scholars at Peking University. He told reporters Saturday that he had spoken to 30 to 40 students there.

Among the military leaders he met on Friday were Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army; Gen. Wang Ning, the army’s deputy chief staff; and Gen. Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the armed forces.

Neither Chinese nor American officials took questions from reporters on Friday, but they allowed journalists a peek into the tightly scripted exchanges, which, in the indoor sessions, involved the two sides’ facing one another at long tables inside the hulking headquarters of the Chinese Defense Ministry in western Beijing.

After reviewing Chinese troops, General Odierno described them as “incredibly professional” and “wonderful.” Later, during his meeting with General Fang, he said: “It’s been very encouraging and made very clear to me the importance that you place on collaboration and cooperation. And I think that is the key.”

At another point, General Fan, the officer on the military commission, cited joint peacekeeping missions and “education” as goals for the two armies and, like General Odierno, referred to meetings between President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama last year as having set a foundation for exchanges between the two military forces.

“We have had substantive discussions on how we will bring forward our military-to-military relationships,” General Fan said. “And as I said earlier, following the example that was set by President Xi and President Obama in their discussions and the importance of increasing the dialogue between our nations, I think it’s important that the military-to-military dialogue takes a positive step forward.”

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