Tuesday, August 20, 2013

China-U.S. Defence Ministers Meet: Not Quite a New Type of Great Power Relationship

Background Brief
China-U.S. Defence Ministers
Meet: Not Quite a New Type of
Great Power Relationship
Carlyle A. Thayer
August 20, 2013
[client name deleted]
1) The US is shifting more to the Asia-Pacific, while China has shown its
determination to lead the region. What is your assewssment of the ongoing visit to
the US by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan?
ANSWER: The current visit of China’s Defence Minister Chang Wanquan to
Washington was planned in advance of the June talks between Presidents Barack
Obama and Xi Jiping in Sunnylands, California. The history of China-U.S military-tomilitary
relations goes through cycles of ups and down. When there is lack of
progress the matter is dealt with by their respective heads of government. The
Obama –Xi meeting set a positive tone for the meeting of the two defence ministers.
As in the past, some limited progress at lower levels follows.
U.S.-China military-to-military relations must overcome three obstacles according to
the Chinese. The U.S. must stop arms sales to Taiwan. The U.S. must stop intelligence
gathering and maritime surveillance activities in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
And, the U.S. must remove the twelve areas of restrictions on military-to-military
interaction in the U.S. National Defence Authorization Act of 2000 (NDAA 2000).
For the moment, China and the U.S. have only agreed to a number of small steps.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will visit China next year. China will participate in the
Rim of the Pacific exercise next year, but its involvement will be limited by U.S. law
(NDAA 2000) to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills only. The Chinese
and U.S. navies will conduct their second anti-piracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden.
Chinese midshipmen will visit the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. The leaders
noted that the working group on cyber (agreed during Secretary John Kerry’s visit to
China in April) will meet. And the U.S. and China will continue discussions on rules to
govern the interaction between military aircraft and vessels on and above the high
seas. This issue has been continually discussed by their bilateral Military
Management Consultative Agreement set up in 1998 without reaching any practical
Peace, cooperation and development will not be possible in the Asia-Pacific Region
without the development of strategic trust between the major powers. Strategic
trust can only be developed step by step gradually.
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
2) According to the media, some compromises between the US and China about their interests/benefits in the Asia-Pacific region as well as about some outstanding international issues were reached during the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in June in California. The meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers on August 19 is considered a follow-up to realize the above-mentioned agreements/compromises. What is your assessment?
ANSWER: Presidents Obama and Xi only had private informal discussions to map out areas of future cooperation. One positive outcome was their reaffirmation that the working group on cyber would meet despite both sides holding widely differing views. There was some agreement on climate change. Significantly both presidents agreed to disagree over how to deal with North Korea, Taiwan and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai confrontation. And, of course, the presidential meeting resulted in forward movement on military-to-military cooperation.
3) Southeast Asia’s media predict that there will be an important turning point in disputes in the South China Sea after the meeting between the US and Chinese defense ministers. Specifically, the US will make certain concessions to China in the disputes and the Philippines’ lawsuit against China. What is your assessment?
ANSWER: The South China Sea was an area of contention between President Obama and President Xi. Xi defended China’s historical rights and sovereignty claims. Obama restated U.S. neutrality on the question of territorial sovereignty. Obama supports the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, Xi views U.S. involvement as outside interference.
Obama, and subsequently his Vice President Joe Biden and other senior Administration officials voiced U.S. opposition to the use of intimidation, coercion and force to settle disputes. It is highly unlikely that President Obama would agree to intervene in the Philippines’ claim to the Arbitral Tribunal. That matter is underway. U.S. officials, however, have counseled the Philippines to tone down their anti-China rhetoric. The U.S. backs the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
4) What is your assessment of the term “new type of great power relationship” initiated and pioneered by the US and China? Will it mark the future trend of global politics?
ANSWER: President Xi first suggested the term “new type of great power relationship.” Xi proposed four major principles to develop this new type of great power relations: (1) both sides should use existing inter-governmental mechanisms for communication and dialogue; (2) both sides should utilize trade and exchanges on technology to open new channels of cooperation; (3) both sides should coordinate their policies on major international issues; and (4) both sides should develop a new pattern of military relations. President Obama has not endorsed this concept.
After the presidential meeting, China and the United States held their fifth Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July. Major progress was made on economic issues and climate change. Both sides agreed to resume stalled negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement. On climate change, both sides agreed to prepare specific
plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve energy efficiency by October of this year.
Analysts looking for Sino-American cooperation to create a “new type of great power relationship” will be disappointed at the lack of agreement over territorial disputes in the East China and South China Seas or China’s continued opposition to the U.S. policy of rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific. Relations between China and the United States have entered a positive period but fundamentally the two major powers will continue to cooperate and confront one another rather than collude over the future of the Asia-Pacific.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “China-U.S. Defence Ministers Meet: Not Quite a New Type of Great Power Relationship,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, August 14, 2013. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.
Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

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