The United States and Australia announced (http://www.smh.com.au/world/australia-us-call-on-china-for-war-games-20090902-f8h4.html) last week that they will invite China to participate in joint military exercises “at the earliest opportunity.” Admiral Timothy Keating, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Angus Houston, commander of the Australian Defence Force, met in Sydney last Tuesday and decided to approach Beijing separately to arrange the proposed three-nation event. “We are anxious to engage with them,” said Keating, referring to the Chinese. “We want to understand much better than we do now China’s intentions.”
If that is his goal, the American admiral did not need to travel thousands of miles, confer with his Australian counterparts, and promise to issue invitations to Beijing. He could have, for instance, listened to the Chinese themselves, who have told him on many occasions that they do not want his ships and planes in East Asia. Keating is trying to make it appear that he has not heard them say “get out.”
Accordingly, Keating has ignored a series of troubling incidents this decade. There was, in April 2001, the now-famous collision of an unarmed Navy reconnaissance plane with an aggressive Chinese fighter pilot in international airspace near Hainan island. Then there were Chinese challenges to Navy information-gathering vessels in international waters, from the Bowditch incident in the Yellow Sea in September 2002 to the several close calls this year involving the Impeccable and the Victorious. A Chinese vessel even tried to steal the Impeccable’s towed array by entangling its wires. In an unmistakable provocation, a Chinese submarine surfaced inside a carrier strike group in October 2006, within firing range of the Kitty Hawk.
And how has Keating reacted to this series of provocations? He always says he doesn’t understand Chinese intentions and wants to develop closer relations to learn more. He has tried to sign up a pact with Beijing for the purpose of avoiding maritime accidents, but there has never been anything accidental about Chinese hostile moves against the ships and planes under his command.
The Chinese, we should know by now, are aggressive, but our admirals have to take responsibility for encouraging them to be worse. In the past, the Chinese have acted with hostile intent, and the Navy then tried to reward them. Keating, for instance, once offered to help Beijing build aircraft carriers. Did this generous offer moderate Beijing’s posture? No, the Chinese continued their irresponsible conduct. Incredibly, we reacted by offering them still more. In these circumstances, why would they ever change?
If we want to change Chinese behavior, we need to change ours. And about the last thing we should be doing at this moment is offering joint maneuvers—and thereby proposing to transfer valuable know-how—to Beijing, which is configuring its rapidly expanding navy to fight us.