Admiral gives Chinese military a 'C' on bilateral cooperation

The top U.S. commander in the Asia-Pacific said China’s military gets “a passing grade” on its bilateral relationship with the U.S. in the last year.

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III said he based that assessment on the continuing military-to-military dialogue and exercises despite “churn in the region," particularly in local areas close to China.

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Locklear did not specify what the “churn” referred to, but the U.S. and China have had several high-profile disagreements in recent months. 

In November, China announced it was establishing an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that would cover territory in dispute with Japan and require other nations to separately notify China of any planned flights through the zone.

In response, the U.S. flew two B-52 bombers through the zone without specifically notifying China. 

The admiral said it was not China’s establishment of the ADIZ that was problematic, but that it was not discussed with its neighbors or the U.S. in advance. The declaration was especially provocative because the zone covered the Senkaku Islands, which Japan also claims.

Several weeks later, a small Chinese warship blocked the path of the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea, after the U.S. ship refused to leave the area. The two ships came within 500 yards away from each other. 

Locklear called the Chinese military’s behavior in that incident “unnecessary and probably more unprofessional," but said it highlighted the need for both militaries to better communicate.

Both incidents triggered formal U.S. complaints to China, according to Locklear. 

However, Locklear said there were some positive aspects of China’s behavior: China’s participation in Operation Damayan after the typhoon in the Philippines, increased participation in multilateral exercises, and security operations in the Gulf of Aden. 

“My hope is that we will learn to interact — continue to learn, and to progress in the professionalism that we exhibit towards each other. This is the best way forward,” he said.