Sino-US co-operation the route to better ties

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2009, 12:00am

China is neither an ally nor adversary of the US. The ambiguity and shades of grey mean that suspicions, misunderstandings and second-guessing of intentions abound. Given the nations' global importance, they have to make every effort to work together. The joint military talks that end in Beijing today must serve as a stepping stone to widening and strengthening that process.

No significant agreements are likely. The two days of meetings between the deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, Ma Xiaotian, and his US counterpart, under secretary of defence Michele Flournoy, are to foster goodwill and understanding.

North Korea's nuclear proliferation will most likely have been on the agenda, as will two confrontations between Chinese and American ships in the South China Sea in March and a third involving fishing boats and a US naval vessel accused of violating international law last month. They may even broach the recent collision off the coast of the Philippines of a Chinese submarine and an underwater sonar being towed by a US destroyer. Most significantly, though, the talks will resume high-level military consultations disrupted in October last year by Washington's approval of a US$6.5 billion arms package with Taiwan.

North Korea's nuclear programme and missile tests threaten regional peace and stability. But there is also disquiet about the military intentions of Beijing and Washington. It is essential that the nations' militaries open reliable lines of communication with one another to allay concerns and prevent misunderstandings.

China's continuing modernisation of its military will inevitably bring its planes and ships into closer proximity with US forces in the Pacific. Putting in place rules and mechanisms will prevent conflict. But the two must also co-operate so that regional and global challenges can be effectively tackled. Meetings of top-level defence officials like that in Beijing this week are a crucial part of building and maintaining such ties.