Less than three months after a report alleging the Chinese military is responsible for thousands of cyber attacks against the U.S., one of America's top officers in the Pacific says the Chinese army no longer poses a threat.
Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, U.S. Army Pacific commander, described to reporters at the Pentagon on Monday what he sees as an improving relationship between the Chinese and U.S. forces in preparation for response to national disasters. This follows increased tensions between the two countries that enjoy unprecedented economic ties, but remain suspicious of one another's military ventures.
Wiercinski, who will relinquish command to a newly created four-star rank, says his work with the Chinese military in recent months is a successful step in implementing President Barack Obama's desire to focus across the Pacific.
"I believe that the Army is extremely well suited to conduct continuous engagement with the Chinese because our army-to-army forces are literally, at this point, not a threat to each other," Wiercinski said.
"Our engagements with disaster management exercises, military medicine, engineering projects -- these are all peacekeeping operations. These are excellent opportunities for us to get into mil-to-mil discussions," he said. "I can only hope those will continue in the future."
The Defense Department remains wary of a Chinese military that is slowly growing from a local force into a regional power.
Private security firm Mandiant alleged in February that Chinese military cyber spies had stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations.
The Pentagon's annual report to Congress on the state of the Chinese military said control over Taiwan and keeping the U.S. at bay in the event of a conflict remains among the chief concerns of the People's Liberation Army.
"The PLA continued to build the capabilities and develop the doctrine it considers necessary to deter Taiwan from declaring independence; to deter, delay, and deny effective U.S. intervention in a potential cross-Strait conflict; and to defeat Taiwan forces in the event of hostilities," the 2012 report states.
The report also points to Chinese army activities around the world. What had once been a force to respond to local disputes now deploys to countries like Libya for civilian evacuations and the Gulf of Aden for counter-piracy operations.
The U.S. continues to find avenues to Beijing. Obama and then-Chinese President Hu Jintao met in January 2011 to discuss relationships between the country, and reaffirmed a commitment to find common ground.
U.S. Army, Pacific believes it could have just the diplomatic touch to strengthen ties with China, despite military tensions between the two countries.
"It doesn't mean we aren't going to keep trying to find inroads to peace, find ways to cooperate and work together," says James Guzior, USARPAC chief of media relations. "The way the Army is looking at our relationship with China, at least at USARPAC, is we're taking an approach of where we have a common interest."
Mutual work to resolve natural disasters and provide humanitarian assistance "levels the playing field," Guzior says. "Natural disasters affect everybody equally. This is one place where we have common ground."
The two armies met in November for a "table-top" exercise designed by the Chinese, for how the two countries would respond in the event of a natural disaster.