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One way to boost US-China military cooperation

Environmental issues offer fertile common ground for building confidence and relations.

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Recently, the Defense Department warned that lack of Chinese transparency and dialogue between the Chinese and US militaries could lead to dangerous miscalculations on both sides. The tense confrontation between a US Naval survey vessel and five Chinese ships in the South China Sea in March echoed the rather serious 2001 Hainan Island incident, which was characterized by mutual suspicion and public acrimony. That event affected US-China relations for years. [Editor’s note: ]

To avoid further incidents, the Defense Department desires "deeper, broader, more high-level contacts with the Chinese," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. The White House issued a statement stressing the "importance of raising the level and frequency of the US-China military-to-military dialogue," and President Obama quickly laid the groundwork by meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in London and agreeing to work to improve military-to-military relations.

One such way to begin military dialogue between the United States and China is by using environmental issues.

Environmental collaboration is unlikely to hit politically sensitive buttons, and thus offers great potential to deepen dialogue and cooperation. Military-to-military dialogue can facilitate the sharing of best practices on a range of environmental security issues. It can help both nations and their regional partners prepare for natural disasters – which are expected to intensify in a warming world – and improve the ability of civilian agencies and militaries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. It can also develop personal relationships that can provide deeper understanding in times of crisis.

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