US Defence Secretary Robert Gates met his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, in Vietnam on Monday for the first time since the two militaries suspended talks with each other last winter, calling for the two countries to prevent “mistrust, miscalculations and mistakes.”
US is worried that its increasingly tense relationship with the Chinese military owes itself in part to the rising leaders of a generation, who, much more than the country’s military elders, view the US as the enemy. Older Chinese officers remember a time, before the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 set relations back, when US and Chinese forces made common cause against the Soviet Union.
The younger officers have known only an anti-American ideology, which casts the US as bent on thwarting China’s rise.
The stakes have increased as China’s armed forces have become more capable. The navy, China’s military expansion’s centrepiece, has added dozens of ships and submarines, and is reportedly building its first aircraft carrier.
But even improved Chinese forces do not have capacity or, analysts say, the intention, to fight the US military. But their increasing range and ability, and the certainty that they will only become stronger, have prompted China to assert itself.
A leading Chinese expert on international security, Zhu Feng, says that the Chinese military’s hostility toward the US is not new, just more open. And that, he says, is not only the result of China’s new assertiveness, but its military’s inexperience on the world stage.