Keeping the enemy closer: US still wary of China's strengthening military despite greater cooperation
Beijing and rising China still a threat despite Chinese President Xi Jinping's reassurances last month.
Economic interdependence between China and the United States has grown over the years but it has not changed the fact that China remains America's greatest rival in terms of global security, military experts say.
"The Pentagon and many US politicians still see a rising China as a threat despite President Xi Jinping reiterating in Seattle that 'China will never seek hegemony and be engaged in expansion no matter how developed it becomes'," said Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie .
"The reality is that cybersecurity, South China Sea issues and other security topics are still key hurdles facing Beijing and Washington, with the US keeping a vigilant watch on China's rise."
Li highlighted a recent statement by the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency saying the People's Liberation Army Navy planned to conduct the first patrol of its Type 094 Jin-class nuclear-powered submarine by the end of the year. The submarine is armed with JL-2 ballistic missiles that can hit the US.
The agency's statement - released as Xi arrived in Washington last month - added to Washington's concerns over Beijing's muscle-flexing in Asia.
"China aims to have a permanent presence of strategic missile submarines and nuclear attack submarines in the Pacific," Professor Jonathan Holslag, head of research at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, said. "The Americans know that and have already started to develop all sorts of new sensors to track them and unmanned underwater vehicles to destroy them if necessary."
Professor Arthur Ding Shu-fan, an expert on the PLA at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union - then the US' main global security rival - Washington realised its primary security challenge would be from China.
"The surprising achievements of the PLA's modernisation … have shown the world that China has replaced the former Soviet Union in global influence with the US," Ding said.
Beijing and Washington have increased military cooperation over the past decade, signing an annex on an agreement covering military operations on September 18, which expanded their code of safe conduct for surface naval ships to include unexpected aerial encounters.
But just three days before the annex was signed, according to the Pentagon, a Chinese fighter bomber made an "unsafe manoeuvre" while intercepting a US spy plane near the Shandong peninsula, raising concerns about bilateral trust between the two militaries.
"At least both sides realise that cooperation is as important as competition, otherwise they would perish together," Ding said. "Even during the cold war, Washington had to work with its deadly foe Moscow."