A year ago, relations beween the US and Chinese militaries were very frosty indeed. At the Shangri-La Dialogue, held each year in Singapore and seen as a useful barometer of ties between the two, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates complained that he had been effectively blocked by China’s military from meeting with civilian leaders.
In his address to the conference, Gates said China’s argument that it had broken off military interactions between the two nations because of an arms sale to Taiwan earlier that year made little sense, and he noted that arms sales to Taiwan are certainly nothing new.
Fast forward a year, though, and things are a little more encouraging. In his opening remarks today at a meeting at this year’s dialogue with Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie, Gates said the two governments agreed that military ties remained ‘underdeveloped,’ but he noted that progress had been made on correcting this over the past several months.
‘As I leave office at the end of this month, I believe that our military relationship is on a more positive trajectory,’ Gates reportedly said, adding that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen had accepted an invitation to visit China in July.
The comments came a day after Gates stated that the United States wasn’t trying to block China’s growing influence.
‘We are not trying to hold China down,’ Gates was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. ‘China has been a great power for thousands of years. It is a global power and will be a global power.’
Of course there are still concerns over China’s military build-up, which Gates was willing to acknowledge. He noted, for example, China’s efforts on so-called aircraft killer missiles as well as in cyber space. But, according to Gates, the Chinese are developing their military to extend the country’s influence in Asia, not to directly challenge the United States.
The problem is, of course, that as China continues to extend it’s influence in Asia it will, by design or default, find itself increasingly at odds with the United States militarily.