A bid for better military relations with China
High-level meetings are part of Admiral Keating's trip this week, following a flap over Hong Kong port visit by USS Kitty Hawk.
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"His goal is to get beyond that," says an official with US Pacific Command who didn't want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. "He may ask the question, but he doesn't want to dwell on that."Skip to next paragraph
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Problems with port visits are symptomatic of larger questions about why China's military does what it does. China has built more ships and submarines – at a pace faster than the US could build them, members of Congress have noted – and last year it unveiled a sleek jet fighter, called the Jian-10, capable of firing precision-guided missiles.
But the top concern of American officials is China's intentions toward Taiwan. The US is committed to the defense of Taiwan, which split from China in 1949, in the event Beijing decides to invade the country to take it back.
That's all the more reason to improve the military relationship, says the Pacific Command official. "It makes sense that we get the mil-to-mil relationship caught up to the economic and diplomatic relationships," says the official. "We still have concerns, and that's part of reducing the miscalculation."
A missile buildup
Meanwhile, as China prepares to host the summer Olympic Games, the US sees the country as a strategic military competitor – and perhaps a growing threat. China appears to be gunning for regional superiority at the very least, expanding to 900 the number of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan, but it is also developing an intercontinental-range ballistic missile that suggests an interest in attaining broader influence.
Another US concern is that the Chinese have reportedly been selling fast boats to the Navy of Iran's Revolutionary Guard that are similar to, if not the same as, those used in last week's encounter with US warships transiting the Strait of Hormuz near the Persian Gulf. Diplomatic officials are concerned about China's sales of the boats to another country whose intentions regarding the US remain unclear.
Many believe the "mil-to-mil" relationship cooled after a 2001 incident in which a US Navy reconnaissance plane was forced to land on Hainan Island after colliding with a Chinese fighter. Two dozen sailors on board were held for days before being released.
Daniel Blumenthal, a senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, says despite that, US military officials continued to quietly engage China. Still, he adds, the China is signaling that it has a military to be reckoned with.
Mr. Blumenthal is not optimistic that US military officials will gain much insight into China's military decisionmaking, because the country is typically reluctant to share much.
"I don't see much hope for a friendly and substantive mil-to-mil relationship," he says.
Mr. Shinn, a China expert who was sworn in to his new post Thursday, told Congress last month he is as perplexed by China's military actions as anyone. "The problem that we have is divining their intent," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "That's one of the reasons for the great ... care and vigilance with which we have to deal with the Chinese military."