US-China Co-operation in Asia Pacific

IITM CSC Article #66
07 October 2013


US-China Co-operation in Asia Pacific

During the recently held China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July 2013, the two countries decided to actively explore a notification mechanism for major military activities and to continue discussions on the rules of behavior on military air and maritime activities. Unlike the Bush administration that allowed the US-China relations to stagnate, the Obama government has sought to establish mutual trust and understanding with Beijing.

At the invitation of Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations of the United States, Wu Shengli, member of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the PRC and commander of the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLAN) visited the US in September 2013, an indication of increasing high-level military visits between the two countries. The two defense chiefs agreed to set up a communication mechanism between the strategic and policy planning departments of the two militaries. Wu Shengli believes that the new relationship will play a positive role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia Pacific.

The US Navy and PLAN have conducted several exercises such as anti piracy missions off the coast of Somalia in 2012 and a two-day anti piracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden in September 2013. Apart from such attempts, China is expected to join the US led 2014 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, the world’s largest naval drill, for the first time.

The joint cooperation between the two countries is expected to help in creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and in strengthening military to military relationships. This creates an ideal ground to explore options for peace, security, and transparency in the Asia Pacific region.

While China and US are making the best of the opportunity to enhance cooperation in the Asia Pacific, there are certain challenges that need to be addressed. The main concerns for China are the South China Sea and East China Sea disputes. It has warned the US time and again for its interference in the South China Sea dispute. Other challenges include U.S. commitments to Taiwan, including the continuing arms sale to Taiwan, the U.S. security treaty commitment to Japan and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and negotiations with North Korea.

Given the US ‘rebalance’ in Asia, there is an increased possibility of instability by US allies in the region. They are becoming more assertive as observed over the last two years. It would appear that the US has to balance its commitment to its allies and partners in the region with its policy of greater military co-operation with China. The current steps in increased military co-operation between Washington and Beijing are intended to address this balance.


Geraldine Smith,
Project Associate, China Studies Centre, IITM
Article PDF: