With all this talk about wrath-of-God carrier-killing missiles and unstoppable invisible super-mega fighter jets of death, you may have missed that the U.S. and China are in a series of high-level talks this week in Washington. They haven't made many headlines, but American diplomatic officials say they've been making progress with their Chinese counterparts, including discussions about mending the military-to-military ties that Secretary Gates has said are one of his top priorities.
Two senior State Department officials said Monday that both the Americans and the Chinese in the regularly scheduled Strategic & Economic Dialogue have been receptive to more cooperation and better transparency between the two nations' militaries. If everyone can walk away from this week's meetings with a good feeling, it could set the table for a good visit by Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, who is scheduled to visit Washington soon.
Senior administration official: [B]y having senior civilians and military leaders in this year’s S&ED, we hope it will contribute over the long term to building strategic trust between both of our countries and our governments writ large, but also between our two militaries. And I think the general idea is to realize that many of these most sensitive security issues are crosscutting in nature and important to both the civilian and military parts of our government, and by tackling some of those sensitive issues together, we hope we can break down misunderstandings and misperceptions that could potentially lead to some sort of miscalculation. I think our hope would be that this could become a regular feature of our discussions. We’ll have – although we’ve been having military and civilian leaders at the table, both last night and today, we’ll have a more formal session tomorrow where they will get in – more directly into some of these issues. So it would be a little bit hard for me to, I guess, prejudge exactly how that will go and how this will go forward.So does that mean the diplomatic and military officials talked explicitly about the carrier-killer missile, or the J-20, or the potential for future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, or whether China would yank its reins on North Korea? These officials wouldn't go into those kinds of details. But they did say that China and the U.S. have the same overarching goal, dubbed "strategic trust" -- both countries would like to know they can at least deal frankly with each other.
But I would just add one other point. I think it’s pretty clear, for those of us in the U.S. Government and on the Chinese side as well, this is not a mechanism that’s designed to replace the already very fulsome military-to-military exchanges and existing channels that are well established between the United States and Chinese militaries. What we see is an – this is an additional innovation that we hope will contribute to our relations.
Senior administration official: I think it’s fair to say that officials on both sides, I think, largely view the general concept of strategic trust in the same way. While it might be possible – of course, given that we are two sovereign nations, we might define it slightly differently – I’ve been quite struck in the preparations for the S&ED and also in the discussions of the last day and a half, how similarly we’ve spoken of the concept. We’ve all talked about the fact that, in fact, we need to enhance strategic trust between our two countries. We’ve talked about the fact that we recognize that it’s misunderstandings and misperceptions that many times most undermine that strategic trust. So I’ve actually, I think, been somewhat heartened over the last day and a half that, at least regarding the term itself, I think we approach it in similar ways.The next big question is: Can all this positive energy last?