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Financial Times : Common goals for China and the US

The biggest challenge the world confronts is coping with the rise of China. Relatively stable world orders do not easily adapt to the emergence of new powers. There are painful dislocations at best; catastrophic tragedies at worst. In so far as the current global financial and economic crisis partly originated in imbalances generated by China's enormous trade surpluses – something Beijing disputes – the potential scale of such disruptions is already clear. The same applies to China's ambitions to project diplomatic and military power.

But handled correctly, the task is not intractable. One does not need to be a modern-day Neville Chamberlain to recognise that it is only natural for China to seek increased military muscle to match its growing economic clout. Japan provides a telling example of how, without credible military projection, even economically potent states struggle to gain influence.

Two decades of double-digit spending have transformed Beijing's military capabilities: it now possesses a large and increasingly sophisticated submarine fleet, a Russian-built airforce, and vastly improved ballistic, satellite and cyber-warfare capabilities.

The trick for the US is to ease China into supporting common goals, which is, after all, akin to Beijing's stated ambition of peaceful emergence. In that context, the resumption of a high-level US-Sino military dialogue – suspended because of Beijing's anger at US arms sales to Taiwan – is very welcome. Childish rhetoric about Taiwan must now be put aside.

The two should talk about more important things. Dialogue is necessary first to prevent accidents from spiralling into crisis.

It should also be used to address legitimate Washington concerns over Beijing's lack of transparency in military spending, its support for repressive regimes and its efforts at espionage, often against the US itself.

But the agenda should be more forward looking than that. It is time to engage China more formally in international efforts against piracy and terrorism. More thought should be given to China's developing role in peacekeeping operations.

There are plenty of pressing diplomatic issues – from North Korea to Pakistan-Afghanistan – where US and Chinese goals at least superficially overlap. By seeking to formalise some of these concerns – six-party talks on North Korea were a promising start – trust can be gradually built.

The gap between US and Chinese military power will shrink. That is inevitable. Conflict is not.


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