U.S.-China Military Ties Growing, Pacom Commander Says
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 The military-to-military relationship between the United States and China is deepening in a “quite commendable” way that may help improve overall engagement between the two countries, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told Pentagon reporters today.
During a news briefing, Locklear said he has spent the week here taking part in security, strategic and economic dialogues with Chinese officials, the last two gatherings hosted by the State Department.
“I think that the progress that we're making between our two militaries is quite commendable,” the admiral said. “It’s commendable because we are able to have very good dialogue on areas where we converge, and there are a lot of places where we converge as two nations, and we're also able to directly address in a matter-of-fact way where we diverge.”
Those divergences are where the friction points occur, he said.
“And friction points are where militaries that understand each other can maybe not solve the friction,” Locklear added, “but they can manage it so that diplomacy can continue to work.”
Locklear said both China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, and the U.S. military, starting with his own Pacific-based troops, understand that and are committed to it.
“I think that alone is significant progress,” he added.
Locklear said the growing relationship is evident in events such as a large humanitarian relief exercise in which both nations’ navies recently took part.
“U.S. and PLA ships and forces were working side-by-side,” he noted. “That's substantial.”
Locklear noted the Navy’s USS Shiloh, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, completed a port visit in China. Pacom, he added, will open port visits for Chinese ships in the future, though dates have not yet been confirmed.
He noted that China has agreed to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise in 2014. “That's a big step for the Chinese military, Chinese navy,” Locklear said. “They'll be entering a multinational three-week-long exercise that's basically run by the U.S. from the 3rd Fleet headquarters.”
The Chinese sailors will be near Hawaii for the exercise and thus a long way from home, the admiral noted.
“But they're excited about it,” he said. “They're excited about coming and participating. And we wish them all the success.”
In response to a reporter’s question, Locklear said the two nations’ forces “have been able to conduct operations around each other in a very professional and increasingly professional manner,” especially in areas close to China. As China’s maritime capabilities increase, he said, the ongoing dialogue between it and the United States about rules of the road will become more crucial.
Because relatively young and inexperienced troops from both countries will encounter each other more often as China increases its reach and “the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific is not going anywhere,” Locklear said, “… we have to manage our ability to operate around each other.”
The admiral acknowledged China has a sophisticated ballistic missile program, and that it will likely acquire increasingly sophisticated military equipment as its reach continues to grow.
“We're already seeing some examples of that,” he said. “We're seeing Chinese operating today in places beyond the first and second island chain that we wouldn't have seen before. We've seen them be able successfully do [anti-piracy] operations alongside of us in the Gulf of Aden. I think it's a natural thing as their global, economic power grows for them to have security interests that go beyond their backyard.”
The Chinese military is not a threat, but an opportunity, Locklear said in response to a question.
“If opportunity is not realized, then, as it would be with any other … growing military, it potentially could become a threat,” he said. “But I certainly view it and approach it as an opportunity. That's really the only best path forward.”