China, US ties march ahead

09:15, October 29, 2009      

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Military leaders in China and the United States have agreed to work closely together and send more high-ranking officers to each other's country.

General Xu Caihou, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, who is currently visiting the US, exchanged notes on Tuesday with the top military man in Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

They spoke for 75 minutes about relations between the two countries and their militaries and reached agreements on many fronts.

Xu was the highest-ranked member of the Chinese military to be a guest of the US since 2006.

Gates is set to reciprocate. He will visit China next year in what will be his second trip to Beijing as defense secretary.

Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also expected to visit China.

Chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army Chen Bingde is similarly expected in the US next year.

The flurry of activity involving high-ranking military officials is being seen as a concrete sign of improving relations between the two militaries. China halted military-to-military dialogue with the US last year to protest Washington's sale of $6.5 billion worth of arms to Taiwan.

Xu said in Washington on Monday that Sino-US military relations had improved since January's inauguration of US President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to visit China next month.

At Tuesday's meeting with Gates, Xu detailed the long-standing "obstacles" blocking the way to even better ties, a US official said.

Xu asked the US to stop selling arms to Taiwan, and reduce and eventually halt air and sea military surveillance close to China's shores.

Qian Lihua, director of the Defense Ministry's foreign affairs office, said in Washington on Tuesday that the two militaries will work more closely together on humanitarian relief. That cooperation is expected to fan out to other areas, including army medical science and young officers.

"We need to break the on-again, off-again cycle of our military-to-military relationship," said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, as he summed up Gates' comments to Xu.

There have been times "where we make strides, we have a good visit, we agree to cooperate on certain things, and then there will be a hiccup that will cause there to be a suspension" in military-to-military relations, Morrell said.

Among the ways the nations will now work more closely together is in the search for people missing in action, and China has agreed to search for the remains of US servicemen who perished when a US bomber crashed nearly 60 years ago, according to Xinhua.

The effort to find missing servicemen is deeply symbolic for both militaries.

"We are extremely appreciative of the assistance of the Chinese government" in helping resolve the cases of US servicemen missing in action, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said on Tuesday.

The US says more than 8,100 of its Korean War servicemen are unaccounted for.

The agreement to look for missing military personnel may also underscore China's objections to US air and sea surveillance missions off its coast, said David Zweig, director of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "It shows a willingness to work with the US to resolve painful long-term memories of lost Americans, but also that the US is still doing this in the region."

Since China's agreement last year to comb its military records, more than 100 documents have been found that relate to missing US servicemen.

The work of the PLA researchers "is a testimony to the great value that the Chinese military personnel place on China-US military-to-military relations," Xu Caihou said on Monday.

Source: China Daily
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