Now Hear This - Greater Cooperation Is Needed Between China and the United States

By Lieutenant James C. Billings, U.S. Navy

Second, with a smaller military and a shrinking fleet, the United States can no longer be everywhere at once. Despite this, naval deployments are increasing and combatant commanders are relying even more on an overburdened fleet. One reason for this trend, particularly in the Pacific, is the intense distrust between nations. Many Asian countries turn to the United States as a balancing tool against a nearby China they view with suspicion. However, because the United States is not interested in containing China, it can use its role as a buffer to build trust between China and its neighbors, thereby reducing their reliance on U.S. forces. This strategy also reduces the risk of a growing arms race in the region, and by building mechanisms for multilateral dialogue, it becomes easier to ease tensions during crises.

By continuing to host and participate in bilateral exercises, we diminish the credibility of extremist views within China that the United States is obstinate, unwilling to cooperate, and trying to contain China.The increased exposure of our officers and sailors also will increase mutual understanding and mitigate the perception of a faceless “other.” It also allows us to develop standard operating procedures that will reduce the risk of conflict arising from unexpected encounters. The more we can work with the Chinese, the more likely we are to understand their intentions, motivations, and concerns, allowing our planners to better analyze their actions.

What types of exercises best support these goals? While there are legal limitations on participation in certain types of exercises, such barriers are not insurmountable. Perhaps the most useful are multilateral exercises where the United States can act as a link between China and their neighbors, such as RIMPAC or fleet reviews. Port visits to civilian harbors also can build trust. By inviting Chinese ships to Honolulu, San Francisco, or Seattle, we can show the epitome of our diversity and values. Instead of regular trips to Hong Kong or occasional trips to Qingdao, port visits to Mainland China’s success stories, such as Shanghai, Tianjin, or Xiamen, would enable China to display its modernity. Personnel exchanges, particularly to each nations’ war colleges, can contribute to mutual confidence. Reciprocal exchanges are hindered due to PLA policy that separates foreign military from PLA students, but changing this policy and allowing equivalent exchanges would build understanding of perspectives and culture.

The military is merely another tool for diplomacy, and the more peaceful overall relations are, the less likely war is. This is not to say the United States should not prepare and train for conflict with the Chinese; that would be strategically negligent. But to refuse to cooperate and attempt to work together is equally so.

Lieutenant Billings is a surface warfare officer and an Olmsted Scholar. He is currently studying Chinese politics and diplomacy at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.




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