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In the late spring of 1995, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry asked the Secretary of the Army to look into the restoration of functional exchanges between the American Army and China's People's Liberation Army (PLA). This request was a major step toward the re-establishment of U.S. Army-PLA ties suspended by U.S. President George Bush in response to the 1989 Tiananmen incident. Reviving functional exchanges by Chinese and American military personnel is particularly significant because these exchanges had been one of the "three pillars" of Sino American military cooperation during the 1980s. Furthermore, even though the U.S. Army has a long- standing tradition of maintaining military-to-military contacts with foreign armies, these contacts and other forms of "peacetime engagement" have grown in significance in the post-Cold War era.1 This is due to a number of factors including the recent reduction of the U.S. Army's force structure, personnel, and overseas presence, as well as the nation's increasing reliance on coalition partners for deterring or prosecuting the potential conflicts of the future. There are, however, some who question the value of renewing American military ties with the Chinese based on the rather limited U.S. gains from the earlier relationship. Furthermore, significant changes in the political environment make the U.S. Army's re-engagement with the PLA somewhat problematic. The original "China Card" rationale for military ties, that of using China as a strategic counterweight against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), became inoperative with the USSR's demise. Thus, criticism regarding military cooperation with what many Americans view as a repressive Chinese regime, once muted for the greater good of Soviet containment, has found both a stronger voice and more receptive listeners. Additionally, reductions in manpower, money, and materiel, when taken together with growing worldwide demands for the attention and/or intervention of the U.S. military, make the cost effectiveness of investing in a relationship with a country that still harbors significant distrust of U.S. strategic intentions rather questionable. Before re-establishing functional military ties with the PLA, the U.S. Army owes itself a detailed look at the relationship. This study, undertaken to support that process, examines the terms of the American Army's engagement with the PLA. The examination begins by exploring the history of the broader U.S. PRC security relationship from which army-to-army ties were derived. The brief historical expedition reveals the security foundations of the original breakthrough in friendly bilateral relations. The historical trace also reveals how this foundation first cracked under the pressures of Tiananmen and finally crumbled with the fall of the old Cold-War bipolarity. With the original engagement rationale overcome by world events, the examination then focuses on answering the question of why the U.S. Army should renew its ties to the PLA. The answer is in three parts: first, China is relevant to U.S. interests; second, the United States can positively influence the PRC as China develops into a world power; and, third, one of America's most effective engagement tools is the U.S. Army.
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