Odierno visits Beijing

Updated: 2014-02-24 10:45

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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Odierno visits Beijing

US Army Chief of Staff Gen Raymond Odierno (left) shakes hands with Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission Fan Changlong in Beijing on Feb 21.[Photo/Agencies]

China and the United States are seeking to increase military exchanges and cooperation amid possibilities for misunderstandings and miscalculations.

US Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno said in Beijing on Saturday that the US Army was working to start a formal dialogue and exchange program with the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) before the end of the year.

Odierno said he had "frank, honest and important" talks with his Chinese counterparts on establishing deeper dialogue between the two armies.

"This is really about expanding cooperation, and, frankly, managing competition," he said. "We want to expand our cooperation at a very high level, deepen our cooperation in areas of mutual interest and then manage our differences constructively."

He said the formal dialogue between American and Chinese army officials would include discussions of humanitarian relief, disaster management and peacekeeping operations.

"I believe we have lots in common, with not only the Chinese government, but the Chinese military. It's important for us that we emphasize engagement, dialogue and understanding and build trust between our militaries," Odierno told reporters at the US Embassy in Beijing on Saturday, the second day of his two-day visit to China.

He said that a formal high-level army-to-army exchange would be helpful because through "history, miscalculation is what has caused conflict".

"It really is about focusing on a long-term relationship and importance of us conducting exchanges, conducting institutional visits," Odierno said.

Odierno said his visit was focused solely on laying the groundwork for senior-level exchanges between the two armies, and he assumed other branches of the American military would try to build similar programs, the New York Times reported.

In Beijing, Odierno met with Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of China's Central Military Commission; Fang Fenghui, chief of the PLA General Staff; and Wang Ning, deputy chief of PLA General Staff. He also attended a meeting with students and scholars at Peking University.

Odierno started his day on Friday with a PLA troop review and full military honors at the headquarters of China's Ministry of Defense in Beijing.

On Saturday, he went to the Shenyang Military Regional Command in northeast China, with Wang Jiaocheng, the regional commander.

"It's been very encouraging and made very clear to me the importance that you place on collaboration and cooperation. And I think that is the key," Odierno said meeting with PLA Chief of General Staff Fang.

"We have had substantive discussions on how we will bring forward our military-to-military relationships," Fan of the Central Military Commission told Odierno in their meeting.

"And as I said earlier, following the example that was set by President Xi and President Obama in their discussions and the importance of increasing the dialogue between our nations, I think it's important that the military-to-military dialogue takes a positive step forward," Fan said, referring to the informal summit last June in Sunnylands, California, between the two presidents.

Wang, deputy chief of the PLA General Staff, told Odierno that China sincerely hoped for more substantial relations with the US military through cooperation.

Odierno said he expected more progress to be made on boosting military-to-military relations when US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visits China in April.

For a while now, military exchanges have lagged behind other dimensions of the US-China relationship, especially the intertwined trade ties. But the two militaries have stepped up their exchanges in the past two years.

China's Defense Minister Chang Wangquan visited the US last August, followed by a visit in September of Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited China last April. In late September, US Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh III led a delegation of senior US Air Force officials to China.

The two militaries had held joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drills last year. This year, China will for the first time participate in the Rim of the Pacific naval military drills in Hawaii, the world's largest naval war games involving 20 nations.

However, China and US navies had a near collision in December in the South China Sea when the USS Cowpens faced Chinese naval ships exercising in the waters.

The US military also runs the risk of an armed conflict with China due to its treaty obligation to Japan, as tensions rise between China and Japan over the territorial disputes of Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea following Japan's nationalization of the islands in late 2012.

Chinese and US militaries remain suspicious of each other's intentions, exemplified by China's Anti-Access/Area Denial strategy and the Pentagon's Air Sea Battle concept, raising concerns for a possible arms race.

Reuters and AP contributed to this story.