For the past few months, relations between China and the United States have been rocky, at best. But last week, Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Fan Changlong made a historic visit to Washington, DC. On Friday, that visit culminated in the signing of a dialogue mechanism between the two rivals.
This was the first major military agreement to be implemented between the two countries in years.
The document outlines military procedures to ensure mutual trust between the US and China. This includes a code of conduct on how to react to military encounters in air and at sea.
Guan Youfei, director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Ministry of National Defense, said that the agreement could result joint military exercises as soon as next year. These exercises would be partially used to ensure that the terms of the code of conduct work appropriately.
In that effort, the United States has already invited China to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise next year, the world’s largest international maritime drill.
The signing of the document, observed by Vice-Chairman Fan and US army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, was the first of two agreements. Talks are also underway to implement an air-to air annex before September, when President Xi Jinping is set to visit Washington.
"The annex on air-to-air encounters aims to prevent crises, while the dialogue mechanism between the armies mainly helps with cooperation," Major General Yao Yunzhu, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Science, said, according to China Daily.
Still, despite this sign of progress, Chinese officials still maintained that the Pentagon had to proceed cautiously in its provocative actions in the South China Sea.
Tensions have been high since Washington’s repeated objections to Beijing’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea. A highly disputed waterway through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes each year, China claims most of the area, though there are competing claims from the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
As the US has stepped up military efforts in the region – as well as encouraging Pacific allies to follow suit – China maintains that it has every right to build within its own territory, and insists the islands are being built for humanitarian purposes.