Military to Continue China Outreach, Official Says
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2010 The U.S. military will continue to reach out to China’s military to foster relations as both nations expand their presence in the Asia-Pacific region, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs said yesterday.
“From this administration, you will hear the consistent theme that the United States is a Pacific nation in every regard – geopolitically, militarily, diplomatically, and economically,” Robert Scher told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a 12-member panel of public and private sector experts on Asian affairs, at a meeting on Capitol Hill. “Asia and the Pacific are indispensible to addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the 21st century.”
The hearing came a week after Chinese officials in Beijing declared a suspension of military relations with the United States in retaliation for the Obama administration’s recent announcement of a nearly $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said then that he hoped any downturn in U.S.-China military relations would be temporary. He cited a law passed three decades ago that allows the United States to support Taiwanese defense, despite the two countries’ lack of formal diplomatic ties. He said similar arms deals exchanged under the Bush administration also angered Beijing, prompting the Chinese to cool military-to-military relations with Washington.
Scher did not address the arms deal in his prepared remarks before the commission, but said U.S. alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines “remain the bedrock of our presence and engagement in Asia-Pacific.”
The administration is committed to strengthening those alliances to address continuing and emerging challenges in the region, as well as to build on relations with other key Pacific players such as India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore, he said.
Scher noted that China is expanding its relationships throughout Asia, while growing both its economy and its military. While most Southeast Asian states have been receptive to defense engagements with China, the country is “long from becoming the security partner of choice to the region as a whole,” he said.
U.S. officials do not view China’s engagements in the region as “a zero-sum game,” Scher said. In fact, he said, “we see great potential for China to bring its growing capacities to bear in support of finding common solutions to common problems,” such as counterpiracy, nonproliferation, counternarcotics and humanitarian assistance.
A continued point of contention in U.S.-China military relations has been China’s increasingly assertive position on maritime and territorial issues in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, partly due to the country’s increasing demand for oil and natural gas, Scher said. The United States will continue to work with its allies in the region to ensure that international policies are followed to allow full navigational rights in the region, he added.
“We strongly object to behavior that puts at risk the safety of our vessels and is a clear violation of international norms of behavior in ocean waters outside territorial seas,” he said. “Our military activity in this region is routine and in accordance with customary international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.”
Meanwhile, the United States is seeking a greater presence in the Asia-Pacific region through a “whole-of-government” approach, Scher said, while “clearly demonstrating through word and deed that U.S. forces will remain present and postured as the preeminent military force in the region.”
The complexity of today’s security environment calls for continuous dialogue between the U.S. and Chinese armed forces at all levels and expansion of cooperation, Scher said.
The United States and China both seek regional stability, economic growth and to stem the rise of extremism in the region, he noted.
“As China’s international role expands, and its defense engagements in Southeast Asia increases, our two militaries will increasingly find themselves operating in the same space,” Scher said. “We need to have sustainable and reliable communication channels to ensure that China understands our interests and does not seek to challenge them militarily.”