Tags: Analysis: Mullen Rebuked During China Visit

Analysis: Mullen Rebuked During China Visit

Tuesday, 12 Jul 2011 07:49 AM


Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen began a visit to China over the weekend as part of a U.S./China commitment to mend strained security relations. Mullen’s visit follows a trip to Washington in May by his Chinese counterpart General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. The exchanges are intended to permit military contacts to resume following a 12-month suspension triggered by Chinese anger over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

In a joint press conference with Admiral Mullen on Monday, General Chen registered displeasure over Washington’s participation in joint military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region. Chen also berated the United States for decadent defense spending levels while the U.S. financial system continues to recover from a recession. In remarks at Bejing’s Renmin University, Mullen acknowledged China’s status as a “Pacific power,” yet he cautioned that with such military standing comes “greater responsibility, greater cooperation, and just as important, greater transparency.”

Analysis:

China has long been wary of the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, including Washington’s robust security alliances with both Tokyo and Seoul. Washington drew Beijing’s ire last year after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly registered U.S. interest in the peaceful resolution of long standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Tensions have flared in recent months between China and several regional states laying claim to the disputed and resource rich territories of the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines both sounded alarms in recent months over aggressive Chinese maritime activities in the region. Both Hanoi and Manila also have been maneuvering to strengthen ties with the United States as a means to deter further Chinese maritime aggression.

Admiral Mullen’s trip to Beijing appears to have inflamed lingering tensions between Washington and Beijing rather than serve as a springboard to improve U.S./China military-to-military relations. General Chen’s public rebuke of Mullen probably is a shot across the bow that China fully intends to strengthen its position in the Asia-Pacific. The United States should use the China visit as a catalyst to strengthen security partnerships in the region, including with Vietnam and the Philippines. Moreover, concrete measures by Washington to enhance regional partnerships would hold far greater sway over Chinese behavior than simply Mullen’s rhetoric that the United States intends to remain a player in the Asia-Pacific region.

Carolyn Leddy held senior positions with the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council under the George W. Bush administration. She was a 2009-2010 Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi Ltd. International Affairs Fellow in Japan and Visiting Fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo.

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