PLA chief on trust mission

Updated: 2014-05-15 02:40

By ZHAO SHENGNAN in Beijing and CHEN WEIHUA in Waashington (China Daily)

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In a significant reciprocal visit, a top Chinese general launched his first US trip with a tour of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in San Diego, California, on Tuesday.

Analysts said the five-day visit, which will be accorded red-carpet treatment, signals willingness by the Chinese and United States militaries to improve ties and keep channels of contact open amid simmering maritime tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, accompanied by the head of the US military's Pacific Command Samuel Locklear, was shown around the nuclear-powered carrier. Fang also visited combat ship USS Coronado.

The visits came just one month after US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel became the first foreign visitor to China's aircraft carrier the Liaoning.

Senior Chinese officers are no strangers to US warships, including aircraft carriers, with PLA navy chief Wu Shengli visiting the carrier Carl Vinson last year. But Fang's visit was still significant, observers said.

On Thursday, Fang will be welcomed by top US military officer Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon in an arrival ceremony conducted with full military honors. On Friday, he will become the first Chinese officer to visit the US Army Forces Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Zhao Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the Center for China-US Defense Relations at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said the reciprocal hospitality showed both countries' growing mutual trust.

“The attitude, either cooperative or confrontational, that they take toward each other will decide the future of the Asia-Pacific region,” Zhao said.

Zhao hailed the meeting between Fang and members or relatives of the American Volunteer Group on Thursday, saying it highlighted the history of Sino-US cooperation.

The group, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was organized and led by retired US Army captain Claire Chennault in 1941 and fought against Japanese invaders in China and Burma, now Myanmar.

Fang and Dempsey are expected to discuss a range of issues including tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South and East China seas during their meeting.

An unnamed US official said that among the issues both sides agree or disagree on, “we disagree with some of their approaches to problem-solving in the South China Sea”, Reuters reported.

Beijing and Washington exchanged sharp rhetoric on Tuesday over a Chinese rig operating in waters near China's Xisha Islands, over which Vietnam claims sovereignty.

Zhu Zhiqun, director of the China Institute at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, said that in principle such exchanges could contribute to a better understanding of each other's intentions. “However, the knots of mistrust and suspicion between the two sides have not been fully untied.”

Zhu said the US appeared to be taking sides recently in tensions between China and some of its neighbors, and the US tended to blame China without objectively looking at why Beijing had become more responsive to perceived provocations.

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