How the U.S. is training China’s military – while inching toward conflict

July 23, 2015
Sailors from Chinese PLA run after unhooking a U.S. Navy UH60 Seahawk as it prepares to take off from the PLA ship Peace Ark during the RIMPAC in Honolulu

Sailors from Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) run after unhooking a U.S. Navy UH60 Seahawk as it prepares to take off from the PLA ship Peace Ark during the multi-national military exercise RIMPAC in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Despite tensions between the United States and China over the South China Sea, the two nations’ militaries train together at a very high level. Current “mil-mil” engagements are robust, with China participating in the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC 2014, which is hosted biannually by the U.S. Pacific Command. The drills allowed China to learn a great deal about U.S. tactics, techniques and procedures (in military shorthand, “TTPs”).

But even as the United States provided China with its highest-level access to military drills, the U.S. military leadership consistently ratcheted up the level of confrontation in the South China Sea. Most recently, a top U.S. Navy admiral participated in a surveillance flight in the region. The United States is at once inching closer to armed confrontation, while at the same time training Chinese forces in the American way of war.

RIMPAC is one of many occasions when U.S. forces have trained their Chinese counterparts. China has participated in U.S.-led counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean since 2008. Initially, due to language difficulties and unfamiliarity with American and allied forces tactics, techniques and procedures, China was given a separate area to patrol. But over the last seven years, cooperation has become closer, as the United States sought greater coordination of operations and closer relations with Chinese ships, by conducting combined exercises in 2013 and again in 2014. This increased interoperability allowed Chinese forces to learn counter-piracy tactics, techniques and procedures, especially those relating to how to support ships that are deployed far from land, for long periods of time. They also learned how to properly run visits and time off for their troops in foreign ports, and how to configure ships to be both efficient and comfortable for the seamen. From the U.S. Navy, the Chinese learned that allowing telephone contact with family at home enhanced — rather than hurt — troop morale and discipline. The Chinese were also able to study American methods for destroying chemical weapons, as they aided the U.S. Navy in destroying Syria’s surrendered weapons.

China has upped the ante by deploying a nuclear submarine escort for its ships engaged in counter-piracy missions — an added level of protection. To get live training, the United States will track any Chinese submarines as hostile, even in a cooperative environment. China knows this, and is able to use its participation in the international effort to explore the anti-submarine warfare tactics of the U.S. forces stationed on Diego Garcia Island, south of India, as well as those of U.S. and allied forces in the Gulf of Aden.

Chinese ships regularly visit Djibouti, home of America’s Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa, which is responsible for countering violent extremists in Africa. In Djibouti, Chinese forces learn how the United States staffs and operates this task force. Throughout all of its counter-piracy operations, China has adopted the EU’s MERCURY communications network, which allows navies to share in real time data on vessels being tracked, and also to conduct ship-to-ship voice, data and email communication. The communication network allows China to understand exactly how NATO allies coordinate efforts in every stage of sea battle, from planning to execution to assessment.

Cooperation between American and Chinese armed forces goes well beyond RIMPAC and the counter-piracy efforts. In February, 29 Chinese combat naval officers visited the United States, touring the Naval Academy, the Navy War College and the Surface Warfare Officers School, where they participated in training on the U.S. interpretation of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, an agreement between 21 countries that establishes rules of the road for how to prevent an escalation of tensions between different militaries at sea. While the goal of attempting to reduce miscommunication is admirable, the training also allowed China to learn exactly how a U.S. vessel will respond to a sudden encounter with a foreign vessel — invaluable information if the foreign vessel has hostile intent. Chinese and U.S. Naval personnel have also conducted joint training on Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Response, and plan to conduct joint training on search and rescue over the next couple of weeks.

The U.S. military’s decision to train Chinese forces has provoked a mixed response in military and political circles. Retired Admiral James Lyons wrote that: “the nature of regimes matter. We are now helping an incurably aggressive state develop its military — to our peril. There is something very wrong at the core of the Obama administration’s and the Pentagon’s China policies.”

While I disagree with the Obama administration’s China policy, I do not think cutting military engagements is the solution. On the contrary, I agree with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who has recently called for closer mil-mil relations.

As I have argued before, an aggressive approach to China in the South China Sea is contrary to U.S. interests. The United States should dial down its public rhetoric against China, and refrain from aggressive military action. Such actions are counter-productive and short-sighted. The United States should enhance mil-mil cooperation, taking care to protect its most sensitive tactics, techniques and procedures. So long as there are no shots fired, we should leave the South China Sea to the diplomats.

14 comments

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“.. The drills allowed China to learn a great deal about U.S. tactics, techniques and procedures ..”

First manufacturing and now the defense.

How lame will this get? Time to hold Ash Carter accountable for such nonsensical strategies with loss of defense IP.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Cash was, is and always will be king. Chinese commies don’t need to fight with us – they’re simply buying the West one by one, with Europe already lining up… So, Marx’s wildest dream comes true: welcome to your wonderful communist future folks!

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Horrible idea training China’s military. Now they will start to gain way too much faith in their military or become too ambitious or both. Then they will draw us in to a war.

Posted by Bryce7454 | Report as abusive

The Chinese don’t need to have a war with us. We will kill innovation to protect the status quo, dumb down the populous so they are easy to control, pass regulations that favor the large politically influential corporations and without any opportunity or right to succeed as individuals the country will flounder and fail. China will have the worlds largest economy and our leaders will be more than eager to capitulate to Chines demands in order to save the system that makes our leaders wealthy and important.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

That is a MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-14. It is definitely not about to take off with the chains still on.

Posted by HSCSailor | Report as abusive

This almost proves Lenin’s statement that the capitalists would sell the Communists the rope with which to hang them (paraphrased). We’re giving the Red Chinese the knowledge base to defeat us at sea. Insane.

Posted by FRG73 | Report as abusive

Why, B0 doesn’t have a clue.

Posted by notfooled2 | Report as abusive

QUOTE: …….an aggressive approach to China in the South China Sea is contrary to U.S. interests.

COMMENT: Nonsense! Why? Consider this:

1. Authoritarian governments, including China, perceive weak responses or inaction as a sign of weakness.

2. Currently, the USA has numerous collective-security treaties and agreements with nations bordering the South China Sea, to include Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, and Australia. Inaction, or a non-aggressive response to Chinese aggression, would cause these important allies to question our resolve.

Posted by WorldlyPatriot | Report as abusive

FRG73’s rationale is lacking. By showcasing U.S. military finesse to the brightest minds in the Chinese sphere, would in itself develop a natural deterrent to any future real-time engagement. The Chinese are very risk averse in all of their endeavours. Often education of nations is flouted as the best way forward in dealing with regional issues such as neutralising fundamentalism. Therefore, one from the Southern Hemisphere, who consistently views such aggressive, and extreme views in forums such as Reuters, would have to conclude that the U.S. education system is in a state of decay in many of her States. The only other possibility is that the teaching fraternity, illicit such sadly hostile states of mind in their constituency. I wonder how many consistently hostile commentators have ever had the opportunity to meet a Chinese family, or Iranian family, or Afghan family. The people of all nations hold very similar values. Relationships between nation states are all too often eroded by too much concentration of power in the hands of too few. Obviously, mature age education options may not be an option, however many should get some coin together and visit nations that may be alien to them now.

Posted by fyaox | Report as abusive

Joint naval exercises between potential adversaries are precisely the answer to de-escalation of any future misunderstandings on the open oceans. Surely greater shared understanding, and the development of friendships between commanders of potentially adversarial nations is preferred to the Iron Curtain state of play of the deep past. You would hope to believe that the future is far brighter between the super powers than at any other time in history. Little known fact that Putin has invested USD 2 billion in programs to sustain the Siberian Tiger. Obama grew up on David Attenborough environmental videography. Who knows, the Chinese supreme leader might like trekking in the Himalayas looking for the snow leopard?

Posted by fyaox | Report as abusive

Each Chinese boy is the ONLY boy in the family. Mom, Dad, grandma, granddad all focus on serving this one boy. So, the result is a nation full of very spoiled men/boys.

It will be hard for to train these men/boys to fight. These will be the comments the trainers might hear: “Too hot, too cold, too heavy, too harsh, food is not as good as my Mom’s, I want to eat xyz, this is no fun, I want to go home…..”

But, there are a lot of them. There are 32 – 40 million more boys than girls in China.

Posted by simpleperson | Report as abusive

This article is nuts. Looks like author was paid to write n this fashion.

Posted by jethromayham | Report as abusive

The PRC’s South China Sea territorial claims cannot be resolved by the usual diplomatic means as the PRC refuses to engage in any such talks. It has refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the case brought The Philippines. Of all the countries claiming some territory in the South China Sea only the PRC has ignored the UNCLOS rules and procedures concerning such claims.
Consequently, the US and allied militaries do have a role to play in achieving a just solution to this dispute which is solely of China’s making.

Posted by MMacK | Report as abusive

@MMacK – The US hasn’t agreed to acknowledge the Hague courts’ jurisdiction either.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive