China and U.S.: Building Military Relations

by Capt. Brad Kaplan, USN

Asia-Pacific Defense FORUM SUMMER 1999

An important and visible indicator of progress in the mutual effort to improve overall Sino-American relations is the expansion of military-to-military contact between the two countries. Both China and the U.S. have conscientiously embarked on a series of measured steps to build military relations, steps aimed at achieving increasingly higher levels of mutual confidence and understanding. These steps have included a series of mutual naval port visits, exchange visits by top military leaders, and working level talks and meetings. This relationship continues to develop and mature as more events increase mutual understanding.

As 1998 ended, several events took place which furthered China-U.S. military relations. Between 9-14 November, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) hosted a visit by the then U.S. Commander in Chief, Pacific (USCINCPAC), Adm. Joseph W. Prueher. Adm. Prueher's visit focused on discussions with senior Chinese military leaders about Asia-Pacific security issues and bilateral defense relations for the coming year. He was also interested in learning more about China's economic reforms and PLA modernization.

Adm. Prueher was accompanied by Lt. Gen. Carl Fulford, the Commander of U.S. Marine Forces Pacific; Maj. Gen. Earl Hailston, the Director for Strategic Planning and Policy for U.S. Pacific Command; and Ambassador Charles Twining, the Foreign Policy Advisor to USCINCPAC.

Adm. Prueher met with many of the PLA's senior leaders including Gen. Zhang Wannian, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission; Gen. Fu Quanyou, Chief of the General Staff; Gen. Wang Ke, Chief of the Logistics Department; and Lt. Gen. Xiong Guangkai, Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

The PLA hosted visits by Adm. Prueher to the 47th Army Group headquarters in Xian, and to a subordinate air defense brigade. This was the first time a foreign military officer had visited these two commands. He was also hosted by the PLA Air Force for a visit to the 28th Air Attack Division in Hangzhou. There he observed ordnance loading of PLA Air Force A-5s and a live-fire demonstration of an air-to-ground attack by four A-5s. In Shanghai, the PLA Navy hosted his visit to the Shanghai Naval Command and a tour of the Jiangwei-class frigate Huainan.

In addition to memorable dinners and luncheons hosted by Gen. Zhang, Lt. Gen. Xiong, and by the Provincial Military District Commander in Xian and Commander of the Shanghai Garrison Command, Adm. Prueher had the opportunity to speak to Chinese students. He spoke at Fudan University in Shanghai about the role of the U.S. Pacific Command in maintaining stability in the Pacific and then answered students' questions.

Shanghai Visit
Soon after this visit, China hosted a visit by Rear Adm. Harry Highfill, Commander, Amphibious Forces Seventh Fleet and by the USS Vandegrift (FFG-48). The Vandegrift is a guided-missile frigate home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, and is the flagship for the amphibious force commander. The visit took place in Shanghai, 4-8 December.

USS Vandegrift, captained by Cmdr. Neal Kusomoto, was met by the PLA Navy's Jiangwei-class frigate Anqing at the mouth of the Yangtze River, which escorted the Vandegrift to her berth in Shanghai. Rear Adm. Hou Yuexi, Commander of the Shanghai Naval Base, welcomed the Americans. Rear Adm. Highfill also met Vice Mayor Feng Guoqin. The U.S. naval visitors were invited to tour the Anqing. In return, Adm. Highfill hosted a dinner aboard the USS Vandegrift. Later the USS Vandegrift held an open house for a visit by over 3,500 Chinese officials and citizens.

Between 9-11 December, another form of interchange took place between the Chinese and U.S. military. The 2nd Sino-American Navy working level consultative talks took place in San Diego, California. The purpose of these continuing semiannual talks is to explore procedures for safely working together on the high seas, as well as to build mutual confidence and understanding.

This meeting was part of an agreed upon series of meetings established by the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement. This agreement calls for two working meetings each year: one with delegations headed by an officer with the rank of navy captain (colonel equivalent); and a plenary session headed by flag (general/admiral equivalent) officers. The first working group and plenary meetings were held in Beijing during 1998.

The PLA Navy delegation consisted of five members, three from PLA Navy Headquarters: Capt. Shen Hao, Operations Department Head; Cmdr. Xie Dongpei, Foreign Affairs Office; and Cmdr. Guo Jinling, Communications Department Assistant Head. Two other members were Cmdr. Ren Xiaofeng, Navy Research Fellow and Mr. Hu Ziqiang, an interpreter from the Naval Research Center.

The five-man U.S. delegation included: Capt. George Galdorisi, Chief of Staff for Cruiser Destroyer Group 3 and a Law of the Sea expert; Cmdr. Dave Glazier, China Desk Officer for Hq. U.S. Pacific Fleet; Cmdr. Ken Porter, Political-Military Officer, Hq., U.S. Seventh Fleet; Cmdr. Mike Sullivan, Executive Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Boutwell; and Lt. Col. Dave Cordon, Safety Officer, Hq., 13th Air Force.

The U.S. Naval Amphibious Base at Coronado, California (near San Diego) hosted the stay for the Chinese delegation and was the site for the meetings. The meetings included briefings and presentations, as well as an open and frank exchange of information and ideas. Subjects ranged from navigation and communications to safe operations of ships and aircraft on the high seas.

The PLA Navy officers were invited to a tour and lunch aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Stetham (DDG-63). They also toured the U.S. Navy's Maritime Ship Handling Simulator at San Diego Naval Station, as well as famous San Diego tourist attractions.

The successful conclusion of the 2nd working level talks helped further China-U.S. maritime understanding and cooperation. These talks set the framework for the follow-on working group meeting planned for Qingdao, China in April 1999. They also helped prepare the ground for the 2nd annual plenary meeting planned for Honolulu, Hawaii, in July 1999.

Steps to Progress
The process of mutual consultation, openness, and sharing of concerns and information needed to preclude future misunderstandings and to build mutual beneficial relations is taking place between the U.S. and China's armed forces, especially in the military maritime domain. The importance of progress in this particular area of the Sino-American relationship cannot be overestimated. The armed forces of the two nations carry a special responsibility to build upon these exchanges to continually enhance military relations for the benefit of the peoples of China, the U.S. and the entire Asia-Pacific region.