Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Wednesday stated that he is “genuinely concerned” about China’s expanded military programs. His comments are the strongest criticism of People’s Liberation Army since the US and China blamed each other last week for an ongoing freeze in military ties, and Beijing rescinded an invitation to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
China initially stalled all military-to-military relations with the US in January this year, when Washington announced a $6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan. Recent events threaten to destabilize overall US-China relations.
Admiral Mullen said in a speech in Washington that he was worried by China’s “heavy investments” in sea and air capabilities and its rejection of military contacts with the US.
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Responding to Mullen’s statement, the Chinese government on Thursday called for more trust between the two militaries, reports Bloomberg. China will “never be an aggressor,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing today, while calling for the US to foster “mutual trust.”
Mullen’s comments follow a tense exchange between Secretary Gates and Gen. Ma Xiaotian, the deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA, during a defense conference in Singapore on Saturday. According to The New York Times, General Ma criticized Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan, while Gates complained that overall US-China relations are “held hostage” by the Taiwan issue and the PLA’s unwillingness to develop ties.
Analysts say the stand-off, which led to Beijing rescinding Gates’s invitation for a visit, reveals the disconnect between the two militaries. The New York Times reports:
Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a Beijing analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the Obama administration’s hopes for cooperation with Beijing “have been more optimistic than current scenarios warrant.”
“China and the US continue to have fundamentally different values, goals and capabilities,” she said, citing China’s reluctance to press for the truth in the sinking of a South Korean ship, an attack that an international investigation determined was the work of North Korea….
The United States has struggled with limited success to recruit China as a partner in United Nations actions, not only against North Korea but also against Iran’s nuclear program.
Military ties between the US and China were further strained last month when Beijing refused to endorse an international investigation that showed North Korea was responsible for sinking a South Korean warship in March.
Previously, during the Strategic and Economic Dialogue between the US and China on May 24, Rear Adm. Guan Youfei of the PLA criticized Washington’s strategic approach, claiming that the US still viewed China as an enemy.
According to The Washington Post, Admiral Guan’s outburst reveals the fragility of US-China ties:
President George W. Bush made it clear as a candidate for office that
U.S. policy toward China “will require tough realism.” Presidential
Candidate Bush’s speech on September 23, 1999, at the Citadel, the
military college of South Carolina, foreshadowed his firm approach to
Beijing.1 In that speech, Candidate Bush recalled for the American people that
“in 1996, after some tension over Taiwan, a Chinese general reminded
America that China possesses the means to incinerate Los Angeles with
nuclear missiles.”2 Bush followed up in a speech in Simi Valley,
California, with the warning to China that it is a “competitor, not a
strategic partner,” that the United States would deny the right of Beijing to
impose their rule on a free people (Taiwan), and that the United States
would help Taiwan defend itself.3 He also made clear early in the
campaign that he would pursue ballistic missile defense for the United
States.4 Thus, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing
had early notice that they would not be dealing with a President
William J. Clinton who considered China to be a “strategic partner” of the
For Beijing, this was a very different America. Under Clinton, U.S.
foreign policy was generally more solicitous of Beijing. Defense officials
ran off to China with packages of “deliverables” that the Chinese had
come to expect out of meetings in which the United States sought more
dialogue and cooperation between the armed forces of each country.
Clinton responded to China’s march 1996 missile launches off Taiwan with
two American aircraft carrier battle groups.5 However, once the Taiwan
elections were over later that month, Clinton dispatched National Security
Council and State Department officials to Taiwan to encourage the leaders
of that island to work harder at getting along with the People’s Republic of
China (PRC). Thus policy seemed to vacillate between a firm foreign policy
line toward China and one that sought to placate the Chinese leadership when
it complained about the U.S. position.6
Once Bush took office, Beijing dispatched successively higher-level
diplomats to Washington — former ambassadors, foreign ministry
officials, and advisers to Chinese President Jiang Zemin—to gauge the
White House’s position on China and Taiwan. This culminated in the visit
to Washington of vice Premier Qian Qichen on March 20, 2001. The
Chinese were clear on one major point: they worked hard to deliver the
message that the sale of the Aegis-class guided-missile destroyer to Taiwan
by the United States was “unacceptable” and, in Beijing’s eyes, amounted
to the creation of a new alliance among the United States, Taiwan, and
The Bush position on Taiwan was clear. he did not back away from his
campaign position that “we’ll help Taiwan defend itself.” The President
and his appointees at the Departments of State and Defense, pointing
to the large-scale buildup of ballistic missiles on the Chinese coast opposite
Taiwan, also made sure that Beijing understood that the United States would
meet its commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act (Public Law 98-6)
to provide Taiwan adequate defensive arms and services to respond to the
On April 1, 2001, during a mid-air intercept by the Chinese Navy, a
Chinese F-8II fighter aircraft collided with an unarmed American EP-3
reconnaissance aircraft operating in international airspace in the South
China Sea. The American aircrew was detained by China for 11 days and
subjected to lengthy and unpleasant interrogation. China made
expansive claims about its sovereign territory, insisting that the entire
exclusive economic zone, 200 miles off the Chinese coast, was its own.
The United States insisted that China’s territorial waters and seas
extended out 12 miles, consistent with international law. This
incident, and the treatment of the aircrew, probably did more to
convince the President and the American people that firmness was the
only way to deal with Beijing than any other action or statement from either
capital. From the perspective of many in the United States, the actions and
rhetoric of the Chinese government were confirmation that Beijing did not
have friendly intentions toward Washington. The release of the crew
and, eventually, the aircraft is seen as the successful outcome of
firmness coupled with flexibility and superb interagency coordination
from the most senior officials in Washington to the members of the actual
negotiating team on Hainan Island. In the face of this, Chinese
truculence gave way to Chinese pragmatism.7
On April 25, 2001, after 100 days in office, President Bush restated
that the United States will help Taiwan defend itself, and in a television
broadcast went further, saying that the United States will “do whatever it
takes” to defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression. Lest any one
misinterpret just how serious President Bush was about that statement, it
was repeated for emphasis. In St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 11,
2002, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, speaking to an
audience that included Taiwan’s Defense Minister Tang Yao-ming,
reiterated Bush’s pledge.