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Restrictions on military-to-military relations with China imposed in 2001 stirred a debate about the value of those activities and their place in the overall U.S.-China relationship. This report examines the debate on security cooperation between the two countries and finds that there is value in the relationship, despite its problems. The debate centers around four major issues of contention: the potential risk to U.S. national security of military relations with China, the potential benefits of the relationship to the United States, whether the United States can expect to influence China through the relationship, and the relative levels of reciprocity and transparency experienced. The study concludes that the U.S. military relationship with China should concentrate on security management rather than on security cooperation. A three-part program of dialogue, information gathering, and limited cooperation can have mutual benefit in minimizing misperceptions and the chances of conflict. Lower-level facility visits, exchanges of students, and the like are less likely to be effective.

The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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