The hostility between the United States and China increased on Monday as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen spoke publicly with General Chen Bingde at a press conference intended to improve military relations between both nations. However the opposite of the desired effect was achieved.
The US and China had intended to improve military relations after Beijing grew cold at the Obama administration selling $6.4 billion in military equipment to Taiwan. This occurred back in January 2010 and has been a sore spot in US-China relations. This new visit was supposed to patch up at least some of the hostilities.
As I said, all did not go well. At the opening bell Chen immediate questioned what the US intentions were in the South China Sea. The area is important because its close to Mainland China, which has most of the sea ports and is a major trade route. China also receives its energy imports from the Middle East and Africa from this area. The question was rhetorical really, its already known it is for these reasons why the US has become involved in the area. They’ve done this by encouraging Vietnam and the Philippines to be more aggressive regarding the area.
“On various occasions, the US has expressed that it does not intend to intervene in South China Sea disputes. However, we have observed the latest joint exercises between US and other countries—for example, Philippines and Vietnam… The timing of those joint exercises is inappropriate, as we see it.”
– General Chen Bingde
With US intentions in the region obvious and undeniable, Mullen had no difficulty finding a politically acceptable answer that did display weakness nor any admittance on the part of the US. However, it also made it clear that the US had no intention of backing down.
“There remain between us many issues of misunderstanding and, quite frankly, apprehension… But we cannot let that history render our future more perilous than it is already. The United States has had a presence in the Asia-Pacific region for decades… And we’ve exercised with our allies and friends in this part of the world for decades. And we will continue to do that.”
– Admiral Michael Mullen
Mullen did reply saying that the US was interested only in “freedom of navigation”, meaning the US intended to keep the region clear so as to make trade as efficient as possible. The route is highly valuable and important for trade, however the Chinese were not buying this as an excuse for military training endeavours.
“Is there any case in which China acted in a way that really impacted on the freedom of navigation of the United States? Actually, in the South China Sea, freedom of navigation has never been an issue or a problem.”
– General Chen Bingde
Chen also made a comment concerning the military budgets of both countries. He noted that the US spends $700 billion a year on the military while China spends $123 billion US. While pointing out the lopsidedness in spending, he also took the opportunity to suggest that the US spend more money on “improving the livelihood of the American people”.
Nothing was resolved by this press conference, this was merely an opportunity for both side to publicly express their concerns. Both sides used this occasion for sabre rattling, sending a clear message to the other side that they were not intimidated and intended to go to war if necessary.
No doubt this meeting was used by both sides with the intention of making it seem as though they were willing to negotiate and get along. In my opinion neither side is willing to do so. Each respective country will probably go back to their people’s and say that they tried to do things peacefully but the other side wouldn’t co-operate. This will no doubt be used as a justification to increase military spending in the face of the global economic recession. The plan is for this situation to make these military increases more palatable to their respective publics.
This situation is a result of two super powers competing for global supremacy. The need for the highest profits is pushing two groups of