Easing tensions: US-China
US Secretary Defence Robert Gates is in China. Gates’ visit is aimed at minimising tensions with Beijing over China’s rise as a military power. Washington and Beijing don’t see eye to eye on many issues that do have global implications.
While US President Barack Obama had given China due credit, acknowledging its global role as a world economic power and sought to develop relations to a new level, several areas of contention remain. These continue to mar relations in the financial, political and strategic fields. Gates visit is especially important for Beijing had suspended military ties with Washington over a $6 billion arms deal to Taiwan last year. In addition, the continuing military presence of US forces in South Korea and staging of military exercises are ?constant irritants.
The most worrisome factor for United States and other regional states on the Pacific Rim is the spiralling increase in military spending by China. Not only has this quadrupled in recent times-from 1999 to 2009—it is expected to go higher. More alarming is intelligence pertaining China’s success in achieving advanced military technology. For example, there are reports that China is near achieving stealth aircraft technology on the lines of the US Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor—the only such operational aircraft in the world that is invisible to radar. In addition, other advances in military modernisation such as the development of a land based, carrier killer missile system, have made a big impact on the richter scale. China however has stated that its defence policy is in tandem with its position as a political and economic power. Downplaying US fears, the Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie has told Secretary Gates that far from posing a threat, his country was in fact decades behind other states in reaching their current level of military prowess. While this may be viewed as hyperbole, US concerns at least for the present must be put on hold, given that the Chinese President Hu Jintao is to visit Washington next week. He is likely to be engaged in some hard-hitting talks on the Chinese currency issue and carbon emissions among others, not to forget the threat posed by China’s military buildup.
The purpose of Gates long haul journey was obviously to relay US concerns, considering the military tensions that came into play over time. However, both states feel the need to continue and in fact deepen military cooperation. The fact that both Washington and Beijing do not want the defence ties to be affected by any averse developments that may occur in the future, speaks for the significance attached to this particular area of cooperation.
It will be interesting to see what Jintao’s visit brings in terms of military and economic cooperation between the two world powers.