U.S. military ties with China are “absolutely vital,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Beijing today at the start of a visit that will conclude July 13.
“I can’t think of any place where there is more to be done and more to be gained than between the U.S. and China,” Mullen said. “We have not always enjoyed a great success in our military-to-military relationship. I would want to very much look into the future in terms of the success of this relationship.”
The world’s two biggest economies have pushed to strengthen military ties that have been strained on several occasions because of issues including a 2010 U.S. decision to sell arms to Taiwan and naval confrontations in 2009. Increases in Chinese defense spending, which trails only U.S. expenditure, are also raising concern among neighboring countries with competing territorial claims.
“Admiral Mullen should send a clear message to his Chinese counterparts that the U.S. welcomes improvements in military relations as it benefits both sides, but it will not seek them at the price of its own security,” Heritage Foundation analysts Dean Cheng and Walter Lohman wrote in a note ahead of the visit.
Taiwan Arms Sale
Tensions rose last year after the U.S. announced plans in January to sell $6.4 billion of missiles, helicopters and ships to Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province that should be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.
China broke off bilateral military-to-military talks until late 2010, ahead of visits by former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Beijing in January this year and Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the U.S. that same month. Chinese General Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army, visited the U.S. in May, further driving efforts to improve ties.
Mullen was scheduled to deliver a speech today to students at Renmin University in Beijing, encouraging themes he first advanced in a speech earlier this year at the Center for American Progress.
“In the spirit of mutual benefit, it is important to emphasize that China’s rise does not imply an American decline,” according to Mullen’s prepared remarks. “We are, and will remain, a Pacific power, just as China is a Pacific power.”
After the speech, Mullen was to tour the university campus and meet with leadership at the headquarters of the PLA’s Second Artillery, his spokesman, Navy Captain John Kirby, said by e-mail. The day will conclude with a dinner hosted by Chen and a live performance of traditional Chinese dance and music.
Mullen also plans to travel on to Japan and South Korea.
China will spend 601.1 billion yuan ($93 billion) on defense this year, an increase of 12.7 percent, Li Zhaoxing, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, said in March. The nation’s defense spending increased by an average of 16.2 percent a year from 1999 to 2008, according to a white paper published in 2009. The biggest increase was 20.4 percent in 2006.
By comparison, the U.S. House of Representatives on July 8 passed a $649 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2012. U.S. analysts including National Defense University’s Phillip C. Saunders say China’s actual defense spending is much larger than figures given by the government as those numbers may not include international arms purchases and other expenses.