The waters of the East and South China seas, turbulent amid territorial disputes, have been made even frothier by renewed US interest in the Asia-Pacific. Tensions are being stoked by Washington's strengthened military ties with countries contesting Beijing's territorial claims. As a crisis loomed over the Diaoyu Islands, joint month-long naval exercises between Japan and the US seemed less about drills and simulations, as the nations said, than provocations. It is, therefore, comforting that relations between the Chinese and American militaries do not appear affected, as evidenced by a visit by a top-level People's Liberation Army delegation.
The tour of military facilities led by deputy chief of general staff Lieutenant General Cai Yingting was the second recent high-ranking visit to the US by PLA top brass. Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie visited in May and his US counterpart, Leon Panetta, will go to Beijing next month. Such trips echo the sentiments of mutual respect and co-operation expressed by leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping when he met US president Barack Obama at the start of the year. Only by getting to better know and understand one another can the nations avoid conflict.
With Asia the world's most economically dynamic region and the US having made plain its intentions, Beijing and Washington have to make every effort to improve ties at all levels. National and global growth and prosperity depend on the region being peaceful. Territorial disputes, contested fishing grounds and a desire to tap undersea oil and gas reserves threaten stability. That challenge can be better met if the Chinese and American militaries have a sturdy and durable relationship. Both are beefing up their naval presence, increasing competition and the risk of conflict. Sustained and reliable military-to-military contacts like those forged by Cai's delegation will lessen misunderstanding, miscommunication and the possibility of miscalculation. Without that foundation, economic and political ties will be vulnerable.