China and America
For the sake of global peace, the armed forces of the world’s two superpowers must learn to communicate
IT IS A sobering thought that official military communication between America and China is still conducted by fax machine. The use of this obsolete technology symbolises a worrying lack of effective dialogue between the two countries’ armed forces. The giants jostle for space in the western Pacific; their ships and jets man oeuvre close to each other every day. Neither side wants war, but China is intent on keeping America at bay. It is easy to imagine how a collision in the air or at sea could escalate. Casualties could fan nationalist flames on either side and cause twitchy officers, or political leaders, to respond in ways that lead rapidly to disaster. So could a misunderstanding by either side of the other’s military movements. Relations between China and America are already strained over trade and a host of other matters. So it is only common sense to try to reduce the risk that their cold-war style sparring might turn hot.
American and Chinese officers are getting to know each other better. Exchanges between their military academies, port calls and high-level visits to each other’s countries have multiplied over the years. But there is still a huge gulf. Much of the interaction is superficial. American officers often describe the Chinese who talk to them as “barbarian handlers”: polished, English-speaking political appointees, usually intelligence officers, whose uniforms have never been crumpled or muddied.