Military relations between China and US marching to a better tune

Military musicians from China and the US record a noteworthy moment during a joint rehearsal by the US army and PLA bands at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Monday. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Two military bands are hitting the right note for better relations, and like anything involving the army, action speaks louder than words.

That is what US army officer and musician Colonel Thomas Palmatier believes.

"And here we are," he said on Monday, two hours before the band he leads and conducts, the United States Army Band "Pershing's Own", became the first US military band to stage a joint performance with a Chinese military band in China.

The performance is just the start of a flurry of military exchanges between the two countries as the year draws to a close.

Observers said the joint performance sends a strong signal of warming relations between the two militaries that have gone through ups and downs in recent years.

Good ties between China and the US will also help ease tension in East Asia over territorial issues, they said.

"The US officers told me upon their arrival at the airport in Beijing that 'we have expected this day for too long'," said Senior Colonel Zou Rui, head of the People's Liberation Army Military Band.

The two bands planned to perform jointly in China in 2011 following the PLA band's tour to the US in April 2011. That was the first time military bands from the two countries had played together since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979.

In Washington, Philadelphia and New York, the five concerts by the two bands were well received by both military officials and the general public.

But the reciprocal visit was delayed, among other military exchange programs between the two nations, after Washington announced it would sell $5.85 billion in arms to Taiwan in September 2011.

The US band arrived on Saturday for a 10-day visit and joint performances are scheduled for Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai.

It has come on the heels of several high-level military exchanges this year, including Defence Minister Liang Guanglie's visit to the US in May and his counterpart Leon Panetta's visit to China in September.

According to Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, more exchange activities are scheduled before the end of this year, including a joint drill focusing on disaster relief in late November in Sichuan province.

US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and a US military medicine delegation will also visit China, while a workshop of senior officers from the Chinese military will visit the US this year, Yang said.

"The military relationship between China and the US developed smoothly this year," Yang said.

Lu Yin, a researcher with the Strategic Research Institute at the National Defence University of the PLA, said that "bilateral military relations have been raised from their low".

Sun Zhe, director of the Center for China-US Relations at Tsinghua University, said despite the improvement in military relations, chronic problems - US arms sales to Taiwan, US military surveillance close to China's coast and US regulations prohibiting certain military exchanges with China - still exist.

"The ties will not be healthy as long as the US keeps provoking China on these issues, on which Beijing will never compromise," he said.

"But recently we found Washington has become more rational in handling these issues to avoid flaring up regional tension in Asia," he added.

Japan's NHK television on Saturday said Tokyo has decided to cancel a planned island retaking drill with the US in November, in the aftermath of China-Japan dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.

Su Hao, a professor of security affairs at China Foreign Affairs University, said Washington's efforts to deepen military exchanges with Beijing are not just for smoother relations but are also targeted at "learning more about the intention and capability of the PLA and to deter Beijing when necessary".

Stable ties and deepening exchanges are what Beijing wants to see and will help stabilize the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, Su added.

For Palmatier, the band leader of Pershing's Own, which has led every presidential inauguration parade since 1925, the most exciting part is "to perform music for the Chinese people".

"We believe that these concerts can show how well soldiers of our two armies can cooperate and work together," he said.

"I think that is an accurate statement that music is a good thing no matter what," the colonel said, adding they have carefully selected music "about America and of America" from various eras.

"We want to tell the Chinese audience a bit about us," he said.

Zhou Wa contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at lixiaokun@chinadaily.com.cn and zhaoshengnan@chinadaily.com.cn

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