U.S. defense chief starts China visit aiming to get military ties back on track

08:09, January 10, 2011      

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates started his four-day China visit Sunday evening, providing an opportunity for military ties to be improved after frictions last year.

During the visit, Chinese President and Chairman of China's Central Military Commission Hu Jintao, Vice President and vice chairman of the commission Xi Jinping, vice chairman of the commission Xu Caihou and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will meet Gates separately. His Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie will hold talks with him.

Gates will also visit the command of the Second Artillery Force of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's core force of strategic deterrence.

Invited by Liang, this is Gates' second China visit since he took office in December 2006. The visit was postponed after the Pentagon's decision to sell a nearly 6.4-billion-U.S.-dollar arms package to Taiwan, an inalienable part of China, in January 2010.

China also suspended the trip by Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and a visit to Washington by Chief of General Staff of the PLA Chen Bingde.

Since then the two militaries have conducted some warm-up exchanges before resuming high-level contact.

In October, Liang met with Gates in Hanoi on the sidelines of the first Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus, and extended his invitation to Gates for a visit in early 2011.

The two countries held the 11th defense consultation in Washington in December. Gates visits China just days ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to Washington from Jan. 18 to 21.

Pang Zhongying, a researcher on international relations in Renmin University, said Gates' visit will help improve and strengthen China-U.S. military ties.

"The relaunch of high-level contact between the Chinese and U.S. militaries shows the new opportunity they are facing for the improvement of relations," Pang said.

However, some analysts also cautioned that some core issues standing in the way of bilateral military ties will not be solved anytime soon.

The Chinese military has said the issues like U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, frequent reconnaissance by the U.S. naval ships and aircraft in the waters and airspace of China's exclusive economic zones, remain obstacles for further development of military ties.

"The resumption of China-U.S. military exchanges does not mean these obstacles have been cleared up, but means China wants to solve the disputes effectively," said Luo Yuan, a research fellow with the PLA Academy of Military Science.

Describing the military ties as a vulnerable part of China-U.S. relations, Luo said "China-U.S. relations would be adversely affected if military ties could not be improved."

Pang stressed that the future development of the military ties lies on what actions the U.S. would take and how sincerely it responds to China's concerns.

In a press release posted on the U.S. Department of Defense website, Gates said he believed dialogue with the Chinese defense force and national leaders "contributes, not only to greater understanding, but contributes to avoiding miscalculations and misunderstandings and miscommunications."

"My own view is that a positive, constructive, comprehensive relationship between the United States and China is not just in the mutual interest of the two countries, but in the interests of the region, and I would say the globe," Gates said.

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