A. Kan Specialist in Asian Security Affairs
CRS report, updated as warranted, discusses policy issues regarding
military-to-military (mil-to-mil) contacts with the People’s Republic of
China (PRC) and provides a record of major contacts and crises since 1993.
The United States suspended military contacts with China and imposed sanctions
on arms sales in response to the Tiananmen Crackdown in 1989. In 1993, the Clinton
Administration re-engaged with the top PRC leadership, including China’s
military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Renewed military exchanges
with the PLA have not regained the closeness reached in the 1980s, when
U.S.-PRC strategic cooperation against the Soviet Union included U.S. arms
sales to China. Improvements and deteriorations in overall bilateral relations
have affected military contacts, which were close in 1997-1998 and 2000, but
marred by the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, mistaken NATO bombing of a
PRC embassy in 1999, the EP- 3 aircraft collision crisis in 2001, and
aggressive maritime confrontations (including in 2009).
Issues for Congress include whether the Obama Administration has complied with
legislation overseeing dealings with the PLA and pursued contacts with the
PLA that advance a prioritized set of U.S. security interests, especially
the operational safety of U.S. military personnel. Oversight legislation
includes the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for FY1990-FY1991 (P.L. 101-246)
and National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2000 (P.L. 106-65).
Skeptics and proponents of military exchanges with the PRC have debated
whether the contacts have achieved results in U.S. objectives and whether
the contacts have contributed to the PLA’s warfighting capabilities that
might harm U.S. security interests. Some have argued about whether the
value that U.S. officials place on the contacts overly extends leverage to the
PLA. Some believe talks can serve U.S. interests that include conflict
avoidance/crisis management; militarycivilian coordination; transparency
and reciprocity; tension reduction over Taiwan; weapons nonproliferation;
nuclear/missile/space/cyber talks; counterterrorism; and POW/MIA accounting.
In 2010 and 2011, the PLA criticized U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and claimed to “suspend”
many U.S.-PRC military contacts. Then, in 2011, the PLA hosted Secretary
Gates in January, and the PLA Chief of General Staff visited in May. In
May 2012, General Liang Guanglie visited as the first PRC Defense Minister
to do so since 2003. Defense Secretary Panetta visited in September.
Policymakers could review the approach to mil-to-mil contacts, given concerns
about crises. U.S. officials have faced challenges in cooperation from the
PLA. The PLA has tried to use its suspensions of exchanges while blaming
U.S. “obstacles” (including arms sales to Taiwan, legal restrictions on
contacts, and the Pentagon’s reports to Congress on the PLA). The PRC’s harassment
of U.S. surveillance ships (in 2009) and increasing assertiveness in maritime
areas have shown the limits to mil-to-mil talks and PLA restraint. Still,
at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in July 2009, President
Obama called for military contacts to diminish disputes with China. The
U.S. military seeks to expand cooperation with the PLA. The NDAA for FY2010 (P.L.
111-84) amended P.L. 106-65 for the annual report on PRC military power to
expand the focus to security developments involving the PRC, add
cooperative elements, and fold in another report on mil-to-mil contacts.
However, the Administration was late in submitting this report in 2010,
2011, and 2012. Enacted as P.L. 112-81 on December 31, 2011, the FY2012
NDAA required reporting on cyber threats but did not require a change back
to the original title, while adding a requirement for a report from the
Defense Secretary before any waiver of a ban on defense procurement from
PLA companies. H.R. 4310 and S. 3254, NDAA for FY2013, would strengthen
the annual reporting on military and security challenges and mil-to-mil
Date of Report: October 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 76 Order Number: RL32496 Price: $29.95
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