Pentagon chief in China for military rapprochement

08:26, January 10, 2011      

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US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (left) is greeted by Deputy Chief of the General Staff Ma Xiaotian (center) as he arrives at Beijing International Airport to start his four-day visit to China on Sunday. (Photo:China Daily/Agencies)

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Beijing late Sunday kicking off a 4-day visit to China that is long overdue because Obama administration's decision to sell weapons to China's Taiwan early last year shortchanged bilateral ties.

The visit, just 10 days prior to Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to the U.S. provides a good opportunity for the world's two powers to improve military and political relations after the frictions last year.

During the visit, Hu, also chairman of China's Central Military Commission, 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 General Liang Guanglie will hold talks with him, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Mr. Gates will also visit the command of the Second Artillery Force of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), the core force of China's strategic deterrence including middle and long-range ballistic nuclear missiles.

Invited by General Liang, this is Gates' second China visit since he took office in December 2006. The visit was postponed after the U.S. decision to sell a nearly $6.4-billion arms package to Taiwan in January 2010.
China also suspended the trip by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, and a visit to Washington by Chief of General Staff of the PLA General Chen Bingde.

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

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

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

Pang Zhongying, a researcher on international relations in Renmin University, told Xinhua news agency that Gates' visit will help improve and strengthen China-US military ties.

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

However, some analysts 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 including U.S. weapons 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-US 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-US 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 US would take and how sincerely and effectively it responds to China's core concerns.

In a press release posted on the Pentagon website, Mr. 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," Mr. Gates said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said last week in New York that in the upcoming Hu's visit to the U.S., the Chinese president and his U.S. counterpart President Barack Obama will map out a blueprint for China-US cooperation in a verity of fields in the new decade.

Mr. Gates will leave China and visit Tokyo and Seoul late this week for his meetings focusing on the Korean Peninsula, sources said.

People's Daily Online


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