Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s visit to the PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning has received a great deal of attention in the last few days. As Shannon Tiezi points out, Hagel will struggle to improve ties with Beijing while also increasing coordination with Tokyo. And yet the project of engaging with the Chinese military is not the same as making friends with it. Because effective communication requires shared priors, China and the United States both have an interest in developing a common understanding of military problems and capabilities.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh and General Hawk Carlisle displayed a deft understanding of this dynamic in an article in the January-February 2014 issue of Air and Space Power Journal, which recounted the two officers’ recent visit to China. The visit was conducted mostly at the strategic and institutional level, giving the USAF leaders an appreciation for how the PLAAF understood the role of airpower in Chinese history. While the visit displayed only some of the PLAAF’s most modern technologies, it did serve to highlight the institutional reforms that drive improvements in Chinese capabilities.