After President Obama and Secretary Clinton announced a series of new agreements and deployments aimed at countering China’s assertiveness, Chinese President Hu Jintao has called on the navy to prepare for military conflict in the South China Sea. Yahoo News reports:
The navy should “accelerate its transformation and modernisation in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security,” [Hu] said.Addressing the powerful Central Military Commission, Hu said: “Our work must closely encircle the main theme of national defence and military building.” […]In a translation of Hu’s comments, the official Xinhua news agency quoted the president as saying China’s navy should “make extended preparations for warfare.” […]And China said late last month it would conduct naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean, after Obama, who has dubbed himself America’s first Pacific president, said the US would deploy up to 2,500 Marines to Australia.
This news is no surprise; a Chinese response was inevitable. But a vigorous military buildup will deepen China’s political isolation and turn what is currently a network of concerned countries into something more like an alliance. However, for those looking for a peace dividend as the current crop of Middle Eastern wars winds down, the news is not good. A new arms race is beginning in the Pacific, and it will not be cheap.But Hu’s tough speech was not the only development in US-China relations this week. The Chinese have canceled mil-mil talks between the two countries before to show their displeasure with the US. This time, they refrained, and mil-mil talks took place this week in Beijing. From the AP:
Chinese and U.S. defense officials met in Beijing on Wednesday to talk about reducing the risk of confrontation after recent friction over arms sales to Taiwan and a stepped-up American military presence on China’s edges.The 12th round of U.S.-China Defense Consultative Talks are a barometer of relations between China’s 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army and a U.S. military that is repositioning itself in the Pacific following the winding down of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. […]China’s decision to proceed with the talks, however, appears to show that Beijing has “accepted that suspending overall bilateral military ties does not serve U.S. and Chinese interests,” Glaser and Billingsley said, warning also that it wasn’t clear yet whether the Chinese side is willing to restore the full range of military-to-military contacts.
Talk tough, but play for time; China is not yet (and may not ever be) ready to break with the US and challenge its neighbors.