China Power

The State of Sino-US Ties

Robert Gates holds China squarely responsible for lack of progress on military ties.

The second day of the Shangri-la Dialogue has started out this morning with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. He opened, as you'd expect, pointing to the centrality of the Pacific to US interests, stating that US security interests are integrally bound to Asia's and adding that as in Barack Obama's words, 'Asia and the United States are not separated by [the Pacific] ocean; we are bound by it.'

But he also wasn't afraid to be tough. As I said yesterday, and as has been confirmed by a number of people I've spoken to here, the Shangri-la Dialogue is often a good barometer of the mood in Sino-US defence ties. And at the moment the mood is one of frustration on the US side.

Gates opened his remarks on China pointing to the commitment made in the autumn between Obama and Hu Jintao to 'sustained' and 'reliable relations', something he said hadn't been possible in recent months. And he made quite clear that he sees China as fully responsible for the lack of progress.

He said China's argument that it had broken off military interactions between the two nations because of the arms sale to Taiwan earlier this year made little sense, noting that arms sales to Taiwan are certainly nothing new and pointing to the fact that the US has stated repeatedly and publicly that it doesn't back independence for Taiwan.

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Gates added that good military-to-military communications are in both countries' interests as they reduce the chance of misunderstanding and miscalculation. It is difficult to see how Beijing could disagree with this, and certainly if it wants to reassure the region that its growing military prowess is nothing to be feared its priority should be the open and reliable ties that Gates called for. Its in its own best interests to work for this.