Both the discussions on military cooperation at the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the official visit to the US by Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie are important events in the military exchange between the two countries. They will create a certain level of relaxation to ease pressure on the long-time military confrontation. A relaxed atmosphere is important for bilateral ties, as it reduces the damage and significance of frictions in specific matters.
Mutual military trust should be accumulated from resolving the disputes over China's sea territory, and through the process of boosting mutual understanding and promoting adaptation. This will consolidate the foundation for the two nations to avoid misinterpreting each other's military maneuvers in the future.
Thus, both nations should have a correct understanding of each other. It's unwise for the US to look down upon China as a land force that can only play a role in the near sea. When China has interests all round the world, it's essential for it to extend its military reach further. China also shouldn't view the US's military existence in Asia as illegal and ignore the special influence of the US on world security. China must accept the truth that the US is a vital power in the region.
The aim of mutual military trust will never be achieved if China wants to squeeze out the US and lead Asia, or the US seeks to restrict China's rise in military strength. Luckily, neither Beijing nor Washington has this aim.
Now the two countries are in defensive positions against each other, and their interests and pursuits overlap, which makes brief confrontations possible. Since the US announced its return to Asia, the two countries' respective bottom lines have been drawing closer concerning the South China Sea.
Although analysts believe the possibility of seeing military conflicts in the South China Sea is still slim, once they begin an arms race and shows of military strength, efforts to build up mutual trust will be ruined.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are a reality, as are the Philippines' status as a much smaller country and China's resolution to peacefully solve the dispute. It is unacceptable for China that the Philippines pushes China and legitimizes its aggressive behavior with the aid of the US.
The Philippines and Vietnam should show basic respect to China and be ready to pay for their wanton show of bravado. In return, China should also respect the two countries, as it will face a catastrophic blow to its international reputation, as any retribution taken by China would be construed as bullying by the international community, given China's comparative might and rising status.
If the US signals to the Philippines and Vietnam that they can do anything as long as the US military presence in the South China Sea continues, it already constitutes a direct violation of China's interests and delivers a blow to Sino-US military mutual trust. In that case, talk of "cooperation" and "transparency" is just empty.
In the foreseeable future, the US is expected to maintain its absolute military superiority worldwide, which should be used to maintain its global influence, prevent overriding military ambitions, and can also serve as a link with other countries in the decline of American economic power.
US military forces must not be directly involved in maritime disputes in Western Pacific countries or be used to support the Philippines and Vietnam to provoke China.
The South China Sea is the touchstone of the genuine attitude of the US toward China. The two countries' unspoken dialogue over the sea and their actions, with their complicated overtones, will lead to profound consequences that will shape some of the key beliefs of the two countries in their view of each other.