China and the US seek to patch up military ties after recent conflicts
Updated: 2010-12-15 08:04
By Ma Liyao and Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
BEIJING / WASHINGTON - China and the United States began efforts to thaw what has been a military-to-military relationship of peaks and valleys, and while Chinese experts said they were uncertain where relations were headed, they said the recent meeting helped re-establish contact between the two ahead of President Hu Jintao's visit to the US early next year.
On Dec 10, US and Chinese military officials met in Washington to discuss North Korea and maritime security in a bid to restart once-frozen bilateral military ties.
The talks were co-chaired by General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, and Michele Flournoy, US undersecretary of defense for policy.
The resumption of the military-to-military dialogue points to warming ties between China and the US, which could gain momentum in the beginning of next year, said Zhao Xiaozhuo, an expert on US military affairs at the Academy of Military Science.
"The two countries are both well aware of the importance of maintaining a peaceful and cooperative bilateral relation," Zhao said. "But there are conflicts that have been historic problems affecting China-US relations and a change in the international structure because of China's rapid development."
The talks come ahead of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' long-expected five-day visit to China from Jan 10-14. Chen Bingde, chief of the Chinese military's general staff, is slated to visit the US in the near future. The discussions were also the first high-level talks between the two since military-to-military ties stalled in January after Washington announced a $6.4 billion arms sale package for Taiwan.
Ma and Flournoy agreed that it is important to keep military ties stable. Flournoy called the talks candid and frank. At a press conference that Friday in Washington, Guan Youfei, deputy director of the ministry's Foreign Affairs Office, said Ma and Flournoy both agreed that the two militaries should maintain communications and exchanges.
General Ma said there remain three hurdles in the relationship. He said the main problems are the US arms sales to Taiwan, Congress' restrictions on military exchanges between the two countries, and the US military surveillance operations in economic zones that China believes it has sovereignty over.
The US has been holding a number of military drills during over the past few months with its Asian allies near China, including a recent joint exercise with Japan.
After the January sales of arms to Taiwan, China lodged a slew of protests and said the arms sale hurt China's core interests.
In June, China rejected a proposed visit by Gates and said he would be invited "at a proper time".
Ties started to thaw in mid-October when Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie met Gates in Hanoi before the inaugural meeting of Asia-Pacific defense ministers.
Zhao Xiaozhuo said Hu's visit will offer a solid platform from which to build Sino-US relations, but where it is headed is hard to say.
"The only thing that I'm sure is that there will be no extreme scene in the foreseeable future of the Sino-US relations," Zhao said.
Zhai Dequan, a professor with the China Institute of International Studies, said the talks "will help the two understand the situation correctly, and ensure it won't go worse, which is not welcomed by any side". He said the talks were a "bedding for easing the current tension".
Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow with the John L. Thornton China Center and a specialist on East Asian international politics and security, said the Pentagon is trying to find a way to continue military-to-military exchanges and do not want to see ties interrupted by political differences on other issues.
"In the view of the US Defense Department, to have that uncertainty and instability is not healthy for the larger bilateral relationship as well as to the military-to-military level," he said.
President Hu Jintao is on a state visit to the US from Jan 18 to 21.
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