During his recent visit to Beijing, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel received some harsh criticism from his Chinese military counterpart General Fan Changlong.
Before arriving in Beijing, Hagel had stated: “You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations by force, coercion and intimidation whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific or large nations in Europe.” While meeting with Hagel in China, Fan responded by telling the U.S. Secretary, “The Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied with such remarks.”
Two interesting questions arise from this unusual exchange of harsh words.
First, what should we make of such unusual exchanges between high-level defense officials from China and the United States? Some believe that Fan’s unusually frank talk might be a good thing, as it can reduce misunderstandings and miscalculations for both sides. As Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, rightly points out, “pretending that differences between China and the U.S. do not exist is unwise and dangerous.” This is an important point. It should be clear to both China and the U.S. that they have serious differences over many issues and being frank about them is not just cheap talk but a first step toward effective bargaining. Moreover, even if such discussions are cheap talk, they can still have a positive deterrent effect, as some international relations scholars have recently demonstrated.