You read here recently about the behind-the-scenes prelude, and now this week, it's the main event: Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, is in Washington this week for high-level meetings and visits to military installations. The festivities kick off with a "band exchange" tonight at the Kennedy Center, then there's an official welcome on Tuesday, a Q&A with reporters, and then Chen will meet Secretary Gates on Wednesday.
Chen's host is his opposite number, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and the two will likely stress the need for understanding and goodwill between their two militaries. American and Chinese commanders both say they want their operational-level service members to get to know each other well and work together as much as possible, the way American Coast Guardsmen have worked with their Chinese colleagues on enforcing high-seas fishing laws and other missions. The Americans' ideal goal is that these relationships would continue even during the times when Washington and Beijing go into their inevitable spats, which tend to make one country or the other pull back from cooperating. For example, China's anger at the U.S. has prompted it to withdraw permission for American warships to make long-scheduled visits to its cities.
But for all the symbolic importance of Chen's visit, don't look for an earth-shaking accord. As you read about last week, many top leaders in Washington remain highly wary of Beijing's military development, its economic policies and its long-term goals. China is just as apprehensive of the U.S., which it wants to stop selling weapons to Taiwan. American officials want to separate the Taiwan issue from everything else. Chinese officials see Taiwan as the only issue. So long as that basic deadlock remains, Chen's visit isn't likely to change very much.