Carter greets General Fan at Pentagon

Updated: 2015-06-12 05:17

By LI XIAOKUN in Beijing and CHEN WEIHUA in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Carter greets General Fan at Pentagon

Chinese Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Fan Changlong and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter salute in front of an enhanced honor guard when the military band played the national anthems of China and the United States during a welcome ceremony at the Pentagon on Thursday morning. [Photo by Chen Weihua / China Daily]

The Pentagon rolled out red carpet for a senior Chinese military leader on sunny Thursday morning.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter greeted the Chinese Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Fan Changlong and his delegation as Fan's motorcade arrived 10am at the Pentagon gate facing the Potomac River.

The two shook hands and then walked up the stairs and stood facing the enhanced honor cordon and saluted when the national anthems of China and the United States were played by the military band. In front of the two and far across the Potomac River, the Washington Monument was in sight.

The two then walked into the Pentagon building for a meeting closed to the press. It was expected that the two will discuss a wide range of issues regarding the two militaries, including the situations in the South China Sea.

Fan is the most senior Chinese military leader coming to Washington since President Xi Jinping assumed top leadership in late 2012. In the Central Military Commission, Fan ranks immediately after Xi, who is also chairman of the commission.

On Friday, Fan is also scheduled to join US Army General Ray Odierno to sign a US-China Army-to Army Dialogue Mechanism at the National Defense University. The two met in Beijing in February 2014.

It is reported that Fan will also meet elderly American soldiers who attended the War of Resistance Against Japan and their families on Friday, before heading for the White House to meet US leaders.

Fan, along with high-level officers of the PLA, started the US trip on Monday, with visits to a Boeing factory in Seattle, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego, and the Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, before heading to Washington.

The high-level meeting has drawn special attention because it comes just two weeks after Carter publicly criticized China for its construction work on reefs and islets in the South China Sea. China has described the work as totally within its sovereign rights, while US officials accused China of being provocative and changing the status quo.

In one case, last month the Chinese navy was reported to warn a US surveillance plane, which carried journalists on board and deliberately flew over a Chinese island, to leave the area eight times.

Shi Yinhong, director of the Center of US Studies under Renmin University of China, said as the atmosphere between Beijing and Washington is "not so good" at the moment, it is expected the two sides will stick to their position on the South China Sea in Thursday's meeting.

"There is little possibility for them to make any tangible concession, but both sides are willing to control the situation including avoid collision of military planes and ships," Shi said.

He said the visit will also help build up a favorable environment for the seventh round of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue scheduled to be held in Washington later this month and President Xi's visit to the US in the autumn.

Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute wrote in a commentary published on the front page of the overseas edition of the official People's Daily on Thursday that the fact Fan visited the US as planned despite the dispute in the South China Sea "conveyed important information to the world".

The information includes the high importance Beijing attached to its military relations with the US, its wish to increase mutual understanding and trust and a positive attitude to control controversy through dialogue, Zhang said.

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, wrote in the China US Focus blog earlier this month that Beijing and Washington should consolidate their military cooperation.

"Obviously, even warm personal relationships don't prevent governments from careening off to war with one another," he wrote. "However, learning that the other side's military personnel are not devils incarnate might cause leaders to at least temper the advice they offer in a crisis."

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