The relationship between China and the US has been a love-hate one.
Within alternating rivalry and synergy, there is also some sort of regularity and predictability. American Presidents who start their Presidencies with anti-Chinese rhetoric (Clinton and Bush) often end up moderating their stances and eventually warm up to China.
Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission (CMC), left Beijing for a visit to the United States, the latest sign of closer ties between the two armed forces. He was invited by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who ironically is the person most concerned with China’s military buildup and non-transparency in military spending.
This is a significant event. Guo is the highest-ranking military officer to visit the United States since 2001 and he ranks only second to Chairman Hu Jintao in the 11-member CMC, China's top military authority.
The Chinese side is optimistic about the trip. Guo's visit comes at a time when China-U.S. military relations are "at the best since 2001," said Qian Lihua, deputy director of Foreign Affairs Office of Chinese Defense Ministry. Qian said Guo's U.S. visit is "the most important Chinese military exchange with another country this year".
Besides speaking to top Pentagon officials and policy-makers, Guo will also be shown U.S. military bases and institutions. Previously, Chinese observers were allowed to study US exercises. This is Washington’s offer and hope for reciprocity – that the Chinese would in return show Pentagon their military installations and facilities. It may already be working. During his stay in Beijing in Oct 2005, Rumsfeld visited the PLA Second Artillery Force, which was opened to a foreign military leader for the first time in PRC’s history.
However, with the warming of ties, there are inevitable oppositional forces at work. Just at the time when Sino-US military exchanges are on the upswing, the US is said to be ready to sell 66 fighter jets to Taiwan, China’s rival across the Straits. Media reports noted that a Taiwanese delegation had proposed the procurement of the fleet of F-16C/D fighters during an annual military meeting with Washington and the latter had agreed to it.
These are no ordinary fighters. The F-16C/Ds are "third generation" fighters with a longer range and powerful ground attack capability. Previously in 1992, the US had agreed to sell Taiwan 150 less sophisticated F-16A/Bs, but refused to provide F-16C/Ds for fear that they could be used as offensive and not defensive weapons.
The Chinese also seemed to be aware of this ambivalence. Thus, following his U.S. tour, Guo will pay an official visit to France (often Washington’s rival in world affairs) as guest of French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.
US said to sell Taiwan 66 fighter planes (Channelnewsasia, 17 July 2006)
China's top general departs for U.S., boosting military ties (People’s Daily, 17 July 2006)