China and the United States are making progress on two trust-building mechanisms for their militaries ahead of the two defense authorities starting their 15th round of talks in October.

Ministry of National Defense spokesman Geng Yansheng indicated that the two powers are moving quickly toward a military cooperative agenda for better communication between them.

China and the US will hold the 15th annual Defense Consultative Talks in mid-October in Washington, said Geng at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday.

“Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Wang Guanzhong will co-chair the talks with US Undersecretary of Defense Christine Wormuth,” he said. The previous talks were held on Sept 9, 2013, in Beijing.

The spokesman also confirmed that “the strategic planning departments of the two militaries will hold their first dialogue” during the talks.

Wang and Wormuth met in Beijing in early July in a strategic security dialogue as part of the sixth round of the China-US Strategic and Economic Diaologue (S&ED).

The outcome document of the S&ED stated that the two sides noted the dialogue was beneficial to enhancing mutual understanding and trust. The two sides decided to continue in-depth and sustained dialogue and to work together to establish a stable and cooperative strategic security relationship.

It also reaffirmed commitment to develop notification mechanism for major military activities and a set of rules of behavior for air and maritime encounters as China-US confidence-building measures as soon as possible.

“It is much wiser for the two sides to engage more attention to the tangible cooperative agenda rather than the issues of huge dispute,” said Yuan Peng, vice-president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Washington and Beijing traded barbs last month regarding the frequent close-in reconnaissance by US military aircraft along China’s coast, but they did not halt the cooperative agenda between the two militaries.

As part of Washington’s effort to repair the rift, US President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, visited Beijing early this month and talked to President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese defense officials.

Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, told Rice that the US military should reduce and ultimately stop “close-in reconnaissance”. China has long regarded the reconnaissance as provocative and has repeated raised objection. But Jonathan Greenert, chief of US Naval Operations, expressed in Washington two weeks ago that the US has no intention to reduce or stop the close-in surveillance.

Geng from China’s Ministry of National Defense told China Daily that during the meeting between Rice and Fan, the two sides endorsed the consensus made by the two leaders in June 2013 about building two mutual trust mechanisms.

Geng from China’s Ministry of National Defense told China Daily that during the meeting between Rice and Fan, the two sides endorsed the consensus made by the two leaders in June 2013 about building two mutual trust mechanisms.

The mechanisms are a mutual report mechanism of major military actions and a code of conduct for military security in, and over, international waters.

After Xi and Obama met at the Sunnylands estate in California, in June 2013 for an informal summit, top defense officials from both sides have met several times and spoken positively about the two mechanisms.

“Both sides agreed the two trust-building mechanisms are conducive and meaningful to strengthening the strategic mutual trust between China and the US. The progress should be accelerated, and periodical results are expected to be achieved soon,” Geng said.

While frictions between the Chinese and US militaries made headlines in the past year, the two militaries have also witnessed substantial progress in mutual exchanges, such as visits and joint exercises.

Admiral Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy, was in the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, last week for the 21st International Seapower Symposium and met with his US counterparts. It was the first time China attended the meeting. The PLA Navy also for the first time participated in the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC) from June to August in and off the Hawaiian Islands.

Jeffrey Bader, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a special assistant to Obama at the National Security Council from 2009-2011, said in an article posted on Brookings’ website on Wednesday that one of the fundamental elements of Obama’s rebalancing strategy is to maintain a positive and stable relation with China in which cooperation on global issues develops and competition on security and economic issues is contained and managed.

Noting the tensions between China and the US, Bader said such frictions are nothing like the tensions during the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996, the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the EP-3 spy plane collision in 2001.

“The US and China continue to expand trade and investment ties dramatically; to develop rudimentary military-to-military relations; to consult and cooperate to varying degrees on global issues such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, anti-piracy, and climate change, and to develop people-to-people, scientific, professional, and scholarly exchanges to the degree that there is substantial interdependence between the two countries,” he wrote.

By ZHANG YUNBI & CHEN WEIHUA September 26, 2014 in China Daily