Monday June 1, 2020


April 29, 2013

From April 21 through April 25, Gen. Martin Dempsey was in China meeting with Chinese leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Minister of National Defense Chang Wanquan, and Chief of the General Staff of the PLA Fang Fenghui. The visit was the first by the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since July 2011, when Gen. Dempsey’s predecessor Adm. Mike Mullen traveled to China. Much of the media attention surrounding the visit focused on current “hot button” topics like the ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula and cybersecurity issues. However, the visit was also important as a sign that both leaderships are trying to improve the often rocky military relationship between China and the U.S.

Media coverage focused extensively on Gen. Dempsey’s statements about North Korea and cybersecurity. On the North Korean nuclear issue, Gen. Dempsey said that he felt assured that China’s leadership are just as concerned as America is about North Korea’s recent provocations. Both sides share the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and both sides recognize that the current threats from North Korea have raised the potential for miscalculations and escalations. However, the meetings did not produce any concrete proposals for dealing with the situation. Chinese leaders continue to advocate for peaceful dialogue as the primary means of solving the issue, while the Obama administration is reluctant to return to the table without specific assurances from North Korea that it is dismantling its nuclear program.

The issue of cybersecurity also attracted a lot of attention, particularly as the Obama administration had been paying more attention to this topic in recent months. After Secretary Kerry’s visit to China in early April, Chinese leaders agreed to set up a cooperative mechanism for discussing these issues. Progress is expected to be slow, especially as China continues to categorically deny that any cyber-intrusive activities have originated in China. However, Gen. Fang Fenghui, the Chief of the General Staff of the PLA, made the widely-quoted remark that if cybersecurity is not managed properly, the consequences could be “as serious as a nuclear bomb.” There seems to be a consensus on the importance of the issue, but there are still not clear-cut ideas for tackling the problem.

Besides specific conversations on current issues, the main point of the visit was to nurture the often-neglected area of military relations between U.S. and China. Mil-to-mil relations between the two countries have a rocky history, with many planned dialogues being cancelled or postponed. During their discussion, Gen. Dempsey and President Xi both noted that a productive and stable military relationship is a crucial aspect of having a cooperative partnership between America and China on other issues. Stable mil-to-mil communication will allow the U.S. and China to foster strategic trust, control and prevent risks, and handled crises that do emerge. To that end, Gen. Dempsey expressed his hope that the U.S. and China can hold more frequent dialogues between senior military leadership. The U.S. and China also plan to hold joint military drills later this year, including anti-piracy drills in the Gulf of Aden (where the two militaries have cooperated before) and as well as humanitarian rescue/disaster relief drills.  Both Xi and Dempsey stated that their respective countries were willing to work together on mil-to-mil relations.

Thorny issues still remain in U.S.-China military relations. China has long complained about three issues as barriers to mil-to-mil relations: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, American reconnaissance activities in the air and sea close to China’s borders, and U.S. legislative restrictions on military and technological exchanges with China. China also has growing concerns about the intentions behind America’s “rebalancing”to the Asia-Pacific, especially questions over how America might become involved in China’s maritime territorial disputes with its regional neighbors. For its part, the U.S. has long viewed China’s rapid military build-up with suspicion, and many U.S. experts believe China has begun acting more aggressively as its military capabilities have grown. As mentioned earlier, there is also much concern in America over cybersecurity issues, including the possibility of hacking sponsored by the Chinese government.

While these issues are significant, problem will only worsen if the U.S. and China cannot find a way to communicate their intentions and their concerns. Gen. Dempsey’s visit to China marked a chance for both countries to reset their military relations, hopefully resulting in stable and meaningful mechanisms for dialogue.


For more information on Gen. Dempsey’s visit to China, please see the following news sources:

China Daily“China, US ready to enhance mutual trust”

China-U.S. Focus “Dempsey’s China Visit Signals Cooperation”

New York Times“U.S. and China Put Focus on Cybersecurity”

U.S. Department of Defense“Dempsey Urges More Strategic Dialogue Between China, U.S.”

Washington Post“Joint Chiefs chairman says he’s satisfied China shares U.S. concerns about North Korea”


For Chinese language coverage of Gen. Dempsey’s visit to China, please see the following news sources:

China News (中国网)“邓普西访华增进高层沟通 中美两军控风险求合作”

People’s Daily (人民日报)“习近平会见美军参联会主席登普西”

Xinhua (新华)“登普西称访华“激发”双方接触”


Compiled and edited by Shannon Tiezzi.