US military exercise invitation to enhance trust

Updated: 2012-09-19 07:56

By Cheng Guangjin (China Daily)

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The Pentagon invited China to join the next Rim of the Pacific Exercise in 2014, in a bid to lessen Beijing's concerns about the US' Asia-Pacific strategy as that country's defense chief kicked off his first visit to China.

US military exercise invitation to enhance trust

Defense Minister Liang Guanglie (right) and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta take part in a joint news conference after meeting in Beijing on Tuesday. Wu Zhiyi / China Daily

China urged the United States to respect its core interests and major concerns and keep a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship that also benefits the entire region.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's visit will help build trust between the two countries' militaries and ease China's concerns over its pivot to Asia, said analysts, while warning that the US' actions should be consistent with its words.

Panetta told reporters after a meeting with Minister of Defense Liang Guanglie on Tuesday that he told Liang the US navy invites China to send a ship to attend the multi-nation military exercise.

The Rim of the Pacific Exercise, held by the US Pacific Command in Hawaii since 1971, takes place every even-numbered year. This year's drills, from late June until early August, were the largest ever, with 22 nations and 25,000 personnel participating, but China was excluded.

Panetta arrived in Beijing on Monday evening for a four-day visit.

Liang told reporters at the joint news conference that the two sides exchanged views on a number of issues confronting the two countries, including US arms sales to Taiwan, the shift in US strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region, territorial issues in the South China Sea, cyberspace security and outer space.

The talks were held in a "friendly and candid" manner with "some consensus" reached, said Liang.

Panetta acknowledged differences between the two countries over maritime security in East Asia, but said better ties would "advance peace and stability and prosperity in the entire Asia-Pacific region".

Panetta's visit, including a visit to a Chinese naval base that serves as headquarters of the North Sea fleet in Qingdao, is part of an effort to bolster military-to-military ties between the two countries and avoid the kind of "on-again, off-again relationship" they have had in the past.

Also on Tuesday, the US and Chinese navies have carried out drills to combat pirates off the Horn of Africa, the US Navy said, in a rare joint military exercise between the two nations.

Somali pirates have attacked hundreds of merchant ships in the Indian Ocean over the past few years, targeting everything from Middle East crude oil tankers to cargo ships loaded with Chinese goods bound for Europe and America.

US guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill paired up with Chinese navy frigate the Yi Yang on Monday for training in boarding, search and seizure.

Beijing and Washington resumed contacts less than two years ago after a breakdown in ties over US arms sales to Taiwan "Our goal is to have the US and China establish the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and the key to that is to establish a strong military-to-military relationship," Panetta said. "The key is to have senior-level actions like we are engaging in that reduce the potential for miscalculation, that foster greater understanding and expand trust between our two countries," he added.

Liang agreed. "Better communications on the aforementioned topics are very helpful and useful for mutual understanding of our respective positions and stances," he said. "It will also help reduce suspicions (and) build trust."

Liang called for the two militaries to discard the "zero-sum-game mentality" and "earnestly respect each other's core interests and major concerns".

Beijing-based military commentator Chen Hu said both China and the US have stressed building a new type of military relationship under the framework of the new big-power relations urged by the two countries' leaders. "Only such a new military-to-military relationship will last long," Chen said.

Reuters contributed to this story.

Whether China-US relations will be cooperative or confrontational will largely be determined by their interaction in the Asia-Pacific region, said Zhang Jian, an expert on US studies at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

"As the world's biggest and second-largest economies, the US and China should play a constructive role in issues concerning each other's major and reasonable interests. At least, it should not be destructive," Zhang said.

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