Are China and US Destined to Clash?
Image Credit: US Navy

Are China and US Destined to Clash?


In a recent piece in the New York Times, Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed the importance of improving Sino-US military relations.

Mullen acknowledged that PLA-Pentagon ties have frequently been characterized by ‘misunderstanding and suspicion,’ and complained that Beijing continues to employ bilateral defence ties as ‘a sort of thermostat to communicate displeasure. When they don’t like something we do, they cut off ties. That can’t be the model anymore.’

Actually, curtailing military exchanges has been a favoured diplomatic mechanism for Beijing and Washington to signal displeasure with a particular development in the overall relationship. The Chinese readily suspended various military visits, exchanges, and other defence contacts after the 1999 Belgrade Embassy bombing, the 2001 EP-3 collision, and in retaliation for the announcement of major US arms sales to Taiwan. Most recently, Beijing froze US-Chinese defence cooperation for the remainder of the Bush administration after the White House notified Congress in October 2008 of its plans to sell Taiwan $6.5 billion worth of arms. Then, the Chinese government suspended senior-level defence visits, rejected US Navy ship requests to take leave at China’s ports, and cancelled meetings on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and WMD non-proliferation—disrupting almost a dozen military exchange programmes in the process.

But the United States has also disrupted bilateral military exchanges with China. The Tiananmen crackdown of June 4, 1989, when PLA troops forcibly repressed peaceful democracy activists in Beijing, resulted in the George H. W. Bush administration’s suspending military contracts and defence technology transfers, as well as indefinitely freezing all visits between US and Chinese military leaders. It wasn’t until Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Chas W. Freeman, Jr. visited China in October 1993 that bilateral military-to-military contacts resumed.  

A decade later, members of Congress demonstrated alarm over alleged Chinese espionage in the United States by imposing severe restrictions on PLA-Pentagon contacts. Section 1202 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 explicitly directed the defence secretary not to authorize military contacts with China that could lead to inappropriate PLA access to an itemized list of advanced US military capabilities. 

External factors unrelated to the military exchanges also contributed to the congressional decision. Members complained about China’s human rights practices (ranging from suppression of civil liberties to allegations of forced abortions and slave labour), Beijing’s sale of ballistic missiles and nuclear technologies to states of proliferation concern, and its policies towards Tibet and Taiwan.

Mullen writes that improving Pentagon-PLA military ties requires developing ‘strategic trust’ between the two militaries through talking – ‘a good bit of misunderstanding between our militaries can be cleared up by reaching out to each other’ and byfocus(ing) on the things we have in common.’ He sees these mutual interests as protecting maritime commerce from piracy and other constraints, impeding the proliferation of drugs and weapons of mass destruction, and promoting regional stability in the Koreas and Pakistan.

To help this along, Mullen invited Gen. Chen Bingde, the head of the PLA, to visit the United States in May. Mullen went on a reciprocal visit to China in mid-July, and argues that such contacts have been an important tool for overcoming mistrust.

September 4, 2011 at 23:25


The reason why the US is what it is, is simple. Currency of last resort. You can go to any country in the world today, produce a dollar bill and get the local currency without too much trouble to buy dinner there. Try doing that with a renminbi/yaun. The Chinese answer to this. Just give us a few years and at our rate of annexation, most countries as we know them will have a single name, China. Then you can do the same thing with a renminbi/ you can with the dollar today.

Note to John Chan: “We have a strange phenomenon here, all the wholesale rapping, hacking, and looting in the anti-Chinese riots sponsored by the local governments in SEA is lightly excused as some violent incidents, and even the anti-Chinese discriminatory government policy is ignored. All those hideous acts are well known and documented.”

Sources my boy, sources! And remember the Xinjiang 13 and the 18,811 millionaires.

September 4, 2011 at 22:59

@John the champion against black discrimination in America
Like I said John.
In first place there are 3.1 million millionaire households in America of which there are 109,000 millionaire African American households

In second place there are 535,000 millionaire households in China. Proportionately are there 18,811 millionaires from Tibet and Xinjiang?

This despite the fact that half of China’s land mass is Tibet and Xinjing and all of China’s resources in energy and minerals come from there, and China’s top ten companies by market capitalization are in only three industries, energy, banking and insurance so there should really be many more millionaires from there.

When you get to that stage (or even the first ten thousand, or thousand, or hundred, or ten, or even say one measly millionaire from there) give me a call and we can talk about discrimination against blacks in America. Until then it is I who will be calling you on these and other websites and blogs to discuss this emerging and urgent issue, John Chan.

You are still foaming at the mouth and I think you should see a doctor about an infection, not your usual guy who gives you the ‘calmness’ pills. good luck, be well, we are all pulling for you from here, even African Americans.

August 16, 2011 at 18:47

Marcus, do you mean he is Chinese?

August 16, 2011 at 18:42

Thor, just stick with hitting yourself on the head with your mythical hammer.
There a good chap.

Syed Mahmud Ali
August 14, 2011 at 03:12

Richard Weitz makes the cogent point that a fundamental fault-line divide the USA and China – as the global systemic hegemon the USA considers it necessary and appropriate for its naval and aerial surveillance operations to continue with total impunity across the planet, in the name of “freedom of navigation”; China maintains it has the right to defend its national security interests within the maritime- and airspaces of its Exclusive Economic Zone, and that non-littoral user states are required to respect the laws of littoral states while conducting their business in another state’s EEZ. Beijing insists that close-in naval and aerial surveillance of China’s national defence installations cannot be described as “innocent passage” or “marine research” authorised by the UNCLOS. Although the two countries interpret clauses of the UNCLOS differently to support respective positions, these differences are symptomatic of the problem they have – rather than the problem itself.

The international security system is under pressure from forces which are challenging, and changing, the basis structure of Euro-Atlantic domination of the planetary political-economic and scientific-technological realms after five centuries. Although these processes are subtle, gradual and often invisible to societies, some things are already different. Leaders of the BRICS grouping, for instance, have for two years now been clamouring for “democratising” global governance. As their capacity to pursue their respective interests grows, traditional Western primacy is steadily eroded. A transformed strategic landscape is crystallising before our very eyes, as it were.

The world that has been familiar to many generations is now confronted with a transition from the known to largely unknown, and uncertain, values and categories. What the end-state of the current state of fluidity will be is not clear from the limited evidence available. This transitional uncertainty is causing grave insecurity among status quo-orientated elites whose perceptual frameworks are increasingly irrelevant.

While many hitherto “developing” countries, most of them very friendly to the system-manager, the United States, expand their strategic autonomous space within the system, the current economic malaise is hindering a comparable recovery in the Euro-Atlantic “core”. Although China’s per-capita GDP, a key indicator of national capacity, even calculated in PPP terms, may never meaningfully catch up with that in, say, Japan or the USA, China’s current trajectory could give it the ability to enforce its claims in peripheral spaces such as the South China Sea in the next two decades or so. The US “AirSea Battle” operational concept, aimed as it is at counteracting the PLA’s A2/AD capabilities and thereby retain US primacy, would impose enormous costs on China’s coastal economic heartland should the two powers ever allow a confrontation to escalate to conflict. There are some indications that Beijing understands this. You could call this PACOM’s existential deterrence.

However, these essentially zero-sum military calculations, founded on 20th century frameworks, neglect a crucial difference between the systemic landscape in the 20th century and the one evolving as we speak. The deep and wide economic, commercial and financial linkages wrought by globalisation among most large and medium-sized economies, especially those of the USA, China, Japan, the European Union and the ASEAN zone, mean that any disruption to one would very likely impact adversely on others. With East Asia increasingly serving as the driver of global growth at a time when governmental debts are pummelling the Euro-Atlantic systemic “core,” any threat to the East Asian region could destroy prospects of recovery for not just the region, but for the rest of the world, too. In short, zero-sum power competitions are no longer meaningful or relevant to the emerging landscape, and any “victory” necessarily pyrrhic if not suicidal.

Managing conflicting interests in this complicated and confusing milieu demands shifts in elite mindsets and a greater awareness of the complexity of systemic interstices in a globalised political economy. Traditional Westphalian perspectives are unlikely to help us address, far less resolve, the challenges confronting the collectivity, even if we ignore, for the moment, myriad “non-traditional” trans-frontier ones. Sophisticated statesmanship, rather than purely domestically focused partisan politicking, might be able to help make the transition without triggering catastrophic calamity in the process. With leadership transitions likely in both the USA and China in 2012, the rest of the world must hold its breath while these two actors learn to adjust, accommodate, and collaborate. The alternative does not bear contemplation.

Blue Dot
August 11, 2011 at 11:11


Most of Chinese bloggers are unprofessional !

August 11, 2011 at 02:01

@Kung Pao: This means John Chan has lost the debate to you.

August 10, 2011 at 22:21

Jamie…you have no knowledge of that which you speak of. Give the rest of us a break.

August 10, 2011 at 01:16

@nirvana: If Frank calls Vietnam dog, then Frank is technically a dog as well. Why? Frank is chinese Vietnamese (now turning his back on the country of his birth). These people came from Guangdong, same Bai-Yueh people as the Vietnamese.

These people suffer from inferior complex. Now they think that china is becoming strong, they just want to be associated with something powerful. Little do they know, that respect is earn through good deeds and big hearts which china doesn’t possesses neither one.

August 10, 2011 at 01:02

@John Chan: I will let the clear-minded, non-CCP bloggers judge mine and your posts for themselves. As for whe you’ve just written here, it looks disgusting. You complaint about people smearing china when in fact you did exactly the same.

I take it as a sign you’ve lost the debate. You and other CCP-bloggers have shown the world how great china is, an empty, bullist, selfish, small-man big guy, full of fakes.

August 9, 2011 at 23:31

@John Chan:

1. show us the documentations, you mentioned.
2. You accused me of not telling the truth about the chinese, here are some proofs:

August 9, 2011 at 23:24

@John Chan: the point of the discussion is chinese monopoly, not the Jew’s.

John Chan
August 9, 2011 at 22:47

Smearing China via conjecture of a prejudice mind surely is in full display in your comment.

My constructive comments on the USA seems giving Canadians a chance to show their loyalty to their southern de factor colonial master. Canadian is putting his body in front of Americans to stop the bullets, just like Canadian is letting the American to have the first right to their water and oil as well.

Kung Pao was showing sign that he did not know anything about Vietnam War that’s why I asked “Is USA trying to wipe out the US-VN history.”

Canadian is in every bombing and killing that the American conducted, only such loyal lapdog will automatically thing other nations will behave like her.

John Chan
August 9, 2011 at 22:14

@Kung Pao:
You are no different from all other anti-China bigots came before you, slander China prejudicially while claiming you are impartial and objective.
Instead of making meaningful contribution to the article, you attack other bloggers who happen to have opinions that are not to your liking viciously right off the gate by saying the other bloggers’ comments are nonsense. That only proved you are closed-minded and cannot tolerate any view that does not fit you bigotry mindset.

Labelling other bloggers baselessly is the typical trademark of anti-China clique, because they have nothing better to say.

If you came here with a purpose, you better make you comment count, and start to make your comments meaningful. Bad mouthing other bloggers and China only show you are ugly, bigotry and ignorant.

August 9, 2011 at 07:04

People think the US could beat China in a war only if China tryed to invade America.If America tryed to invade China they would lose alose very badly.In less than 20 years China would win eather way if it went nucular the hole world would die.The only things lefgt would be roaches.China is only going to stand for the American military in there back yard until they are sure they sales to the US are not as important.Besides the fact America can’t invade China they are broak and can’t continue fighting illegal wars.If they thought they could afford a war withj China in money or life they better wake up from there dream.

John Chan
August 8, 2011 at 23:15

We have a strange phenomenon here, all the wholesale rapping, hacking, and looting in the anti-Chinese riots sponsored by the local governments in SEA is lightly excused as some violent incidents, and even the anti-Chinese discriminatory government policy is ignored. All those hideous acts are well known and documented. Instead of denouncing those barbaric behaviours, Passerby who raised such facts was accused of fabrication without doing serious research and making things up due to his Chinese emotional tie that skewed his judgement.

Yet a blogger accusing Chinese bad behaviour with hearsays was taken as truth without doing serious research, and was used to lecture Chinese with moral high ground. Canadian sense of right and wrong surely is unique and is full of prejudice against Chinese if a_Canadian_observer is a representative of Canadians.

John Chan
August 8, 2011 at 22:16

Jews are famous for close netted discriminatory mercantile practises, that’s why they got so many troubles in Europe. In Canada, monopoly is the nature of the Whiteman mercantile practise. The government sets up laws and agencies to make sure those Whiteman exploitation practises are protected and legal.

Comparing the scale of Chinese disputed business behaviour with the Whiteman outright legalised exploitation is like comparing mosquito leg with elephant leg. Yet someone from Canada denounced Chinese with moral whip while ignoring the scandalous exploitation at home, Canadian surly knows how to raise hierocracy to a new level.

August 8, 2011 at 16:59

To the defense of the small Chinese businessmen, I would like to point out that it has been their traditional way to do business through networks of relatives. Their implicit arbitration clause is often “an uncle of my father knows the father of your uncle”. Because, mostly they make verbal deals. I don’t know about the big corporates practice.

August 8, 2011 at 01:16

Hi Ozivan,

He is just saying that a war is not in China’s best interest. They can blockade the Oil from the middle east and force the Chinese Navy to their ports pretty much like what happened to the German Navy in WWII. They will starve your Armed Forces of Oil just like Japan when they conquered China.

US can and will also take over the debt they have with you and write it off to fund a war effort to preserve “democracy”. No State have no enemies and they will come popping out left and write when they will see that there is a possibility of defeating China.

Though, what he says has credibility we could never know since China also have Nuclear Weapon’s and that must be factored in as a deterrent. It would also cause the United State a good number of casualty if War with China do takes place and would now be depending on Public Opinion if it holds up with a war with China. Casualty Report have a huge impact in a Democracy like the United States but would have little effect in China, just like what happened with the Vietnam War.

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