After earthquake, China welcomes U.S. military
As Defense Secretary Robert Gates heads to Singapore, the Pentagon sees a turnaround in the Chinese security forces.
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Historically, the Chinese have been loath to accept foreign aid, seeing it as "losing face," some analysts say. But defense officials say that they've seen small differences in the way the Chinese accepted aid for this disaster. Even during the severe snowstorms in China last winter, the US employed far more diplomatic initiatives in trying to help China, defense officials say. This time, the Chinese government issued international pleas for help and has been responsive in accepting and then acknowledging the assistance publicly.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier this month, Admiral Keating used the new hot line to speak with his Chinese counterpart, and the two shared thoughts on the disaster response and what else China needed. The line, essentially a special phone number, was established to give the US and China an easy way to talk with each other directly after US military commanders had complained for years about the difficulty of communicating with the Chinese military. Even now, though, Keating says he would still like the cellphone number of his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, to make talking even easier. He says he's not sure yet he'll get it right away, but maybe soon.
Cheng Li, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says China is adopting a new approach and is increasing its transparency. The earthquake created an opportunity for the government to accept help as it prepares for the summer Olympics, he says.
"At least to some leaders, China's poor international image is a big liability for China's development and security," Mr. Li says. "They had to change."
Li cites the willingness of the Chinese government to allow media to accompany officials on visits to the disaster area and to cover the government's response as examples. Just last year, US military leaders were scratching their heads when the Chinese government refused US warships a series of port visits, which had occurred regularly and are allowed by international maritime rules. Earlier that year, the Chinese shot down one of their own weather satellites in a move that was widely seen as an ominous testing of capabilities. But the Chinese have yet to discuss the matter in any detail.
Many American conservatives believe China's military buildup poses a tremendous challenge to Western security interests, and that the next major conflict could be with China. But others, including Defense Secretary Gates, say that while China's military ambitions as a world superpower need monitoring, US policymakers should not lose sleep over China as a "near peer" military competitor.
Li says he hopes China's increased willingness to cooperate with the US and with other countries will help to influence those American conservatives to view the country in a more moderate context.
"It's an opportunity to work with China as a responsible and accountable power, a responsible stakeholder," he says.