Xi Jinping

US, Chinese presidents agree to step up dialogue between their militaries

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping see eye to eye on improving military dialogue - and both are desperate to avoid a costly arms race

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 9:38am

US President Barack Obama has reiterated the need to improve the military dialogue between the United States and the mainland in order to help both sides understand each others' strategic objectives.

"We've had high-level diplomatic communications about economic and strategic issues, but we haven't always had as effective communications between our militaries," Obama said after the first day of his summit with President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat in California.

"And at a time when there's so much activity around the world, it's very important that we each understand our strategic objectives at the military and political level."

During his meeting with Obama, Xi agreed to "improve and strengthen the military-to-military relationships" between China and the US.

Washington has repeatedly pushed Beijing for greater military transparency and to improve high-level military contacts with the US as China proceeds with its modernisation of the People's Liberation Army.

Chinese experts on military and Sino-US affairs said Beijing would welcome Obama's call to establish a senior-level military dialogue because both sides wanted to avoid a costly arms race.

"As the current supreme power in the world, the US is worried that China's rapid military modernisation will cause a cut-throat arms race between the two sides in future, which might challenge its military status," military commentator Ni Lexiong said in Shanghai.

But he said that although the mainland welcomed greater Sino-US military co-operation, it would not play a very active role in fostering it.

"Beijing has never wanted to emulate the former Soviet Union, which sacrificed economic development for the sake of military expansion to compete with the US," Ni said.

"Indeed, China also realises that compared with the US army, there remains a huge gap that the People's Liberation Army cannot close," he said.

Shi Yinhong, an expert in US affairs at Renmin University, said Washington felt that the current Sino-US strategic and economic dialogue faced a bottleneck due to the lack of a platform to discuss defence issues.

"Washington wants to establish a defence dialogue that includes all pressing defence topics, especially cybersecurity, space security and other sensitive issues," he said.

"China would welcome the idea of enhancing military-to-military communication, but it doesn't mean such a [military] dialogue would be decisive and productive."

As a step towards enhancing high-level military exchanges, Defence Minister Fan Changlong will visit the Pentagon later this year.