USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier, was scheduled to make a port call in Hong Kong together with three other U.S. Navy warships Wednesday. As China-U.S. relations remain tense and with the meeting between President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump looming, the event attracted special attention.
It signals that the Chinese and U.S. militaries have stabilized relations and shows that the two militaries can maintain cooperation even when China-U.S. strategic suspicion is increasing, which sheds an optimistic light on bilateral relations.
Trade cooperation used to be regarded as the cornerstone of China-U.S. relations, but now it's the wrestling mat for their disputes. Military cooperation, which was once the most sensitive and vulnerable aspect between the two, has in turn become the key to maintaining their relationship.
But the China-U.S. military relationship isn't as friendly as the event illustrates. Just two days before USS Reagan moored in Hong Kong, two U.S. B-52 bombers flew near Chinese islands in the South China Sea, conducting a so-called "routine training." The U.S. has been presenting more frequently in the South China Sea in recent months.
But seen from a higher level, China-U.S. military relations are pragmatic and the tension has eased. After an earlier spat, Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis exchanged visits recently. The two militaries also held joint drills on humanitarian relief and disaster rescue last week. Compared with all the trade and diplomatic disputes, it's unbelievable that the Chinese and U.S. militaries communicate so smoothly.
Chinese and U.S. militaries have normalized communications and both sides are attaching more importance to such contact than ever before. Meanwhile, neither side has stepped back from the dispute, showing their steadfast resolution and determination.
The China-U.S. military relationship is as vague as the whole China-U.S. relations. They are obviously not enemies, but it would be hypocritical to call themselves friends. China and the U.S. can't be simply described as enemies or friends. Their respective futures depend on how they will shape their relationship together.
Although the Chinese and U.S. militaries can't make the two countries friends, they have the final operational authority to turn them into enemies. It's the two militaries' historical responsibility to avoid operations which could cause the collapse of China-U.S. relations. Chinese and U.S. militaries have the duty to defend themselves from attack of the other as well as to prevent China-U.S. relations from escalating to a worst-case scenario.
The two militaries share cooperation and also tacit competition. Chinese people should get used to such a complicated condition. While China maintains cooperation with the U.S., it shouldn't hesitate when protecting its own interests. Chinese and U.S. militaries should respect each other during the process, and make the whole process mature and professional.
China-U.S. relations should be mature as well. The previous tragedies of relations between powers don't do much to help China-U.S. trust-building, and we shouldn't hold unrealistic expectations for friendly cooperation between the two sides. Nor should the two countries over-interpret disputes. The two countries should avoid rash acts and misjudgment.
U.S. aircraft carriers often need to make port calls in Hong Kong. China agreed this time, but it rejected the U.S. in September, and China may reject again whenever the U.S. goes too far. Our two countries are getting familiar with such games. With joint effort, we hope there will be fewer times that a U.S. aircraft carrier is rejected.