There was more bickering between China and the United States at the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on the weekend.
And given the provocative actions US warships have repeatedly taken in the South China Sea due to Washington's miscalculations of what China has done in its attempt to defend its own territorial waters, it is necessary for both militaries to sit down and talk.
It is beyond doubt that whether the world's largest developed country and largest developing country can better manage their differences is the key to peace and development in the Asia-Pacific and the world at large.
The US military should never underestimate the resolve of its Chinese counterpart to defend its territorial integrity and its sovereignty. Both sides need to do whatever they can to prevent any contingencies from escalating into a direct conflict.
What is badly needed is mutual trust. And communication is the way to establish that trust. More communication will help each side better understand each other's bottom lines and thus know where to toe the line. More communication will also help both sides to work out ways to better manage or even shelve their differences.
As far as the South China Sea is concerned, China has no intention of interfering with freedom of navigation except for its efforts to defend its own territorial waters. In addition, China has reiterated that it will do its utmost to solve or manage the territorial disputes with its neighbors through dialogue.
As for the Taiwan question, there has been no misunderstanding between the US and China about the island’s status. The situation across the Taiwan Straits should not deteriorate unless the island authorities misinterpret any message from the US or the latter sends a wrong signal bolstering the nerve of secessionists on the island. Either one will likely become the source of increased tensions across the Straits.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in Singapore that the US would continue to pursue “cooperation whenever possible”, and that he would visit Beijing soon at China’s invitation. He also mentioned that the US military will seek to strengthen mutual trust with its Chinese counterparts.
Patience on the part of the US military is needed to listen to what its Chinese counterpart say about the South China Sea and about what China’s military has done there. And it is also imperative for the US to understand where China’s core interest lies and its needs as a rising power in terms of its defense strategy.