Joint Interests Could Boost Ties between China and US

The United States and China, by increasing their dialogue and engagement, can build a foundation of trust while fostering regional security and prosperity, the top U.S. commander in the region said yesterday.

 “While competition between the United States and China is inevitable, conflict is not,” Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told members of the National Committee for U.S. China Relations in New York.

“This means identifying strategic areas where our two countries can cooperate, while recognizing frankly and openly the areas where we will continue to differ, and to manage those,” he said. “Our approach is to manage the friction and disruptive competition and increase areas of congruence and cooperation between our two nations.”

Locklear encouraged the China experts to envision a future in which “the U.S. and China collaborate to build upon an existing Indo-Asia-Pacific community of peace and prosperity.”

Reaching that goal, he said, requires recognizing, understanding and managing areas of divergence that could disrupt the security environment. These range from China’s concerns that the U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region is designed to contain China’s rise to differences in how the two countries view the maritime global commons and the lack of common ground on behavior in cyberspace.

 Locklear emphasized that the rebalance is a whole-of-government strategy, recognizing that “the United States’ success in the 21st century will, to a large extent, depend on what happens in this critically important region of the world.”

Based on a strategy of collaboration and cooperation, the rebalance acknowledges the reality that the United States’ future is “inextricably linked” to Asia’s, he said.

And one of the fundamental goals in implementing it is to build a “stable, productive and constructive relationship with China,” he added.

Despite many areas of divergence between the two countries, Locklear said, he believes they’re outweighed by areas where the United States and China share common interests.

 “First, it is my belief that neither of our two nations desire conflict, especially armed conflict,” he said.

But both countries must also recognize the major roles they both play in the region, he said.

“The Pacific is big enough for all of us,” Locklear told the group, borrowing a quote from both former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States’ and China’s economic relationship — one that Locklear said draws them together and positively affects the entire region.

The admiral noted other promising developments that are solidifying this foundation: China’s growing participation in the international community, its commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and its efforts to address HIV/AIDS and pandemic diseases, among them.

Meanwhile, China is demonstrating “a real appetite to deepen the military-to-military dialogue and build on those areas on which we converge,” Locklear said. The goal, he said, is to continually improve the channels of communication and to demonstrate practical cooperation on issues that matter to both sides.

Gen. Fang Fenghu, China’s top military officer, identified counterterrorism, antipiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, logistics and military medicine as potential areas of cooperation during a visit to Beijing by Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Looking to the future, Locklear said, it’s vital that both China and the United States recognize their responsibilities as regional and global leaders.

 “We must move beyond our individual differences to bring consensus to issues that threaten regional stability and future prosperity,” he said. That includes partnering with other nations to address regional security challenges such as piracy, terrorism, proliferation and pandemic disease.

Secondly, he said, the two countries must work together and with the international community to ensure access to the shared domains through universally accepted standards. This extends from the maritime domain — and territorial disputes in the South China and East China Seas — to the cyber and space domains, where they can play a role in helping to establish worldwide standards and practices, he said.

Also key, Locklear said, is China’s increasing participation in regional military-to-military engagements. He cited progress in the Military Maritime Consultative Meeting and other forums, and China’s agreement to take part in the next Rim of the Pacific international maritime exercise.

These engagements help to build trust and mutual understanding and, ultimately, reduce the likelihood of miscommunication and miscalculation that could derail forward progress, Locklear said.

 “I believe the best hope for sustained bilateral cooperation will come from strategically identifying those areas where our interests overlap and building, over time, greater understanding and trust between our two armed forces,” the admiral said.

Press Release, May 23, 2013