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Xi, Obama agree on moves to build military trust

Publication Date : 26-03-2014


Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama have, for the first time, raised and agreed on the need for an early notification mechanism and a code of conduct between their militaries.

The proposed moves, aimed at boosting mutual trust and preventing accidental clashes, were a topic at their meeting on Monday on the sidelines of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit held in The Hague in the Netherlands.

"Both sides concurred with the need to set up a mechanism to inform each other of major military moves at an early date, and draft a code of conduct to safeguard the security of the navies and air forces on the high seas," reported the official Xinhua news agency yesterday.

During their meeting, the leaders also discussed global and regional issues such as climate change and China's territorial disputes with its neighbours, according to media reports.

Obama reportedly said he wants the US, China and other Asian nations to work through competing claims in the South China Sea, in order to ease tensions there.
Beijing is also locked in disputes with Tokyo in the East China Sea.

Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying in reply: "On the issues of the East and South China Sea, the US side ought to adopt an objective and fair attitude, distinguish right from wrong, and do more to push for an appropriate resolution and improve the situation."

China's assertiveness with regard to the territorial disputes and Washington's criticism of this have threatened to derail efforts by both sides to build a new model of major-power ties which avoids the clashes that occurred in the past when a rising power met an established one.

Among the areas that Xi and Obama pledged to improve at their California summit last June was military interaction, which has been a topic during meetings and visits by top military brass from both sides.

Still, it is significant that the two leaders have included them in their talks, said Sino-US expert Ding Xinghao, adding that it shows military ties have made breakthroughs under Xi since he took power in late 2012.

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies analyst Hoo Tiang Boon said one trigger for the early notification mechanism could be the surprise launch of the air defence identification zone by China in the East China Sea last November.

He added that the proposed code of conduct, which reportedly will cover both sides' navies and air forces and spell out rules of engagement, likely stems from a desire to avoid accidental clashes, after a near-collision in the South China Sea between Chinese and American warships in December.

That China is willing to discuss such a code bodes well for the region as it allows the US to influence China into adopting better rules of engagement, he said.

Professor Ding, head of the Shanghai Association of American Studies, said the US may also have been induced indirectly by the Ukraine crisis to talk with China on beefing up military trust.

Tensions have risen between Washington and Moscow and fears of armed clashes have also climbed after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea province last Wednesday.

"The US, knowing it could have its hands full in Europe and with Russia, wants to reduce friction and risks of military conflict with China," he added.


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