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Gates's challenge in China: Why he's looking far beyond J-20 stealth fighters

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“This kind of long-term tension is really bad for both sides and for mutual trust,” says Xu Guangyu, a former People's Liberation Army general.

Suspicions on both sides

The US side is particularly anxious to resume the military dialogue, worried that misunderstandings between the two potential rivals could lead to clashes at sea where both navies operate, and that China’s military doctrine is unclear.

“One of the real problems of not having a relationship is I don’t understand much about what they are doing,” the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said last month, announcing Gates’s long-postponed visit to Beijing. “I don’t understand the depth or the reasons for their military investment,” he added.

The Chinese are equally suspicious of US intentions. “The US always sees China as a rival and in their military exercises we are always the enemy,” complains Xu.

US naval exercises with South Korean and Japanese forces in November in the Yellow Sea, 100 miles off the Chinese coast, “were meant as strategic deterrence to China,” says Xu.

The US aircraft carrier group “was designed to scare North Korea” after its forces shelled a South Korean island, he adds, “but it also showed that if China violates US or its allies’ interests, America can deploy its military power without hesitation. If America cares about its relations with China it should avoid holding drills in such sensitive places.”

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