China-U.S. military ties grow as they watch each other at sea

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BEIJING -- China's official People's Daily newspaper lambasted the United States when it led the most recent Rim of the Pacific naval drill, saying the 22-nation exercise reflected the U.S. bid to "contain the military rise of another country."

Next year, Chinese ships will join the biennial RIMPAC military simulation for the first time. Foreign Minister Wang Yi, while visiting the Pentagon last month, described military ties as a "bright spot" in the U.S.-China relationship.

Mr. Wang's words and China's participation reflect a changed attitude as the world's two biggest militaries boost contacts, despite competing for influence in the Asia-Pacific, home to shipping lanes and resource reserves. The closer ties will be tested as China grows more assertive in a region dotted with nations that would call for U.S. help if attacked.

"The competition and conflicts between China and the U.S. will still be there, but it will prevent them from escalating to an unmanageable level," Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Beijing's Tsinghua University, said by phone. "It is preventable diplomacy rather than positive cooperation."

U.S.-China ties will be on display at next week's leaders meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum in Bali, Indonesia. China's territorial disputes in the South China Sea may be discussed, along with changing U.S. and Chinese roles in the region.

Military competition between the United States and China is on the rise even as the two foster closer links, with China's defense budget more than doubling since 2006. Although its military spending is less than one-fifth that of the United States, China has developed drones, stealth fighters and an aircraft carrier while deploying a type of anti-ship ballistic missile that the United States says is meant to threaten U.S. carriers in the region.

That buildout comes as China has pushed its territorial claims more forcefully in the South and East China seas, and as the U.S. Navy plans to move more forces to the region in a strategic shift. Four Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Japan-controlled waters around disputed islands about 9 a.m. and left about 11 a.m. Tuesday, Japan's Coast Guard said in emailed statements.

China's naval expansion "is largely about countering" the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Capt. James Fanell, deputy chief of staff for intelligence and information operations at the U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters in Hawaii, said in a January conference presentation in San Diego.

"They want to have the capability to make sure that events do not occur in those three seas that they do not approve of," said former Navy officer Bernard Cole, who teaches at the National War College in Washington, referring to the Yellow, East and South China seas. "The problem from a U.S. perspective is that we have mutual defense treaties with South Korea, Japan and the Philippines."

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