News / Asia

Pentagon Official: China Showing New Assertiveness in Asia

David Dyar

A top Pentagon official urged China on Thursday to resume military-to-military exchanges to help minimize the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation.  

U.S. Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia, Michael Schiffer, said China's military recently has been more assertive in and around Asia, particularly in the South China Sea and the western Pacific Ocean. "This assertiveness has caused concern among China's neighbors in the region as well as in the United States, given that in addition to the economic and diplomatic influence that China is now seeking to wield.  China's military capabilities are on the rise now as well," he said.

Schiffer said the situation requires stronger security reassurances for countries in Asia through multilateral forums such as ASEAN.  He added that China should respond to U.S. calls for more transparency with regard to its military budget and intentions.  

Schiffer told an Asia policy forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here in Washington that more U.S.-China military cooperation is needed. "We believe that a robust military-to-military relationship helps minimize the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation as U.S. and Chinese interests continue to intersect and as our forces come into closer operational proximity," he said.

Schiffer urged China to return to implementing a plan that was reached between Beijing and Washington last year to improve military-to-military relations.

Last October, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Xu Caihou, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission agreed to hold several high-level military exchanges this year.  According to the agreement, Gates was supposed to visit China.  And both sides were looking toward stepping up military cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as conducting joint maritime search and rescue missions.

China blames the United States for the stalled relationship.  Beijing suspended military-to-military ties in January after Washington approved an arms package to Taiwan worth more than $6 billion.  The Pentagon has publicly called for the resumption of military-to-military ties with China.  

In late May, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Robert Willard, met with Lieutenant General Ma Xiaotian in Beijing -- the highest level military meeting between the two sides since late last year.  U.S. Defense Secretary Gates was to have visited China during the past month, but Beijing and Washington could not agree on a date.

At the Asia policy conference, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg noted that although China and the United States have areas of disagreement, they are also finding ways to cooperate.

Steinberg noted that on two pressing issues during the past 18 months, Iran and North Korea, China has played an important role in passing United Nations sanctions against both countries.

"The success that we have had to date, both in enacting, first resolution 1874 last June and resolution 1929 this month, reflect the deep engagement that we've had with China and the recognition that we need to work together and that we have common interests in this," he said.

Schiffer noted that there are few global issues that would not benefit from greater cooperation between China and the United States.  He said that because China has benefitted from peace and prosperity in Asia, it has a vested interest in helping to ensure that stability and economic development in the region continue.

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