Courtesy Reuters

Military-Security Relations Between China and the United States

In the developing relationship between China and the United States, the spotlight has been on official visits, trade and exchanges, and on the issues surrounding a possible normalization of relations. However, many crucial questions concerning relations between the two countries have received less public attention; they concern military-security and arms control issues, which involve fundamental questions of war or peace.

Today the United States and China have no formal military relationship. There are no explicit links, or negotiations, between Washington and Peking on bilateral military problems or arms control. Nevertheless a security relationship does exist, implicitly, as it must between any two great powers whose interests and policies intersect. Moreover, in the future, issues involving military security and arms control will have to be dealt with more explicitly and directly.

The most fundamental change in relations between the United States and China in recent years has been the transformation from a pattern of hostile military confrontation to one of military restraint and cautious accommodation. But the character of the present military-security relationship is difficult to define, and determining future U.S. policy requires analysis of some extremely delicate and sensitive issues.

Even though both the United States and China have taken steps to minimize the dangers of military conflict, the two countries are obviously not allies, and neither is likely to view the relationship in traditional alliance terms in the foreseeable future. In fact, neither can ignore the possibilities for future Sino-American conflict.

Nevertheless, in regard to security issues their policies today involve certain elements of parallelism and even of tacit cooperation. One key question for the United States is whether it should push that parallelism further. Another is whether it it should try to develop direct military links and cooperate overtly with the Chinese on matters involving military security.1


In attempting to deal with such questions, it is important to define the basic assumptions and objectives that should underlie U.S. policy. This requires an appraisal of what American

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