Gates' positive attitude adds depth to talks

10:57, January 12, 2011      

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The Chinese military on Tuesday highly praised the fence-mending visit of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates but urged Washington to seriously reconsider future arms sale to Taiwan.

"The visit is a move to develop healthier and more stable relations between the two military establishments," Guan Youfei, deputy chief of the Defense Ministry's foreign affairs office, said at a news conference after talks between Gates and President Hu Jintao.

"Gates himself rated the visit highly, describing it as successful and saying that the broad and in-depth discussions were tangible, pragmatic and fruitful."

Gates is in Beijing on a fence-mending visit a year after China postponed high-level military exchanges with the United States over Washington's multi-billion-dollar arms deal with Taiwan.

But Washington has to respect China's "core interests" and "take concrete measures" to eliminate the obstacles in relations between the two armed forces, Guan stressed.

Reports have said that Taiwan is buying MGM140 ATACMS surface-to-surface missiles from the US. Gates sidestepped the question at a joint news conference with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie on Monday.

"We believe the situation across the Taiwan Straits is relatively mild. Cross-Straits exchanges are growing day by day," Guan said.

"At such a moment, we are holding a stronger line against US arms deals to Taiwan. The problem lies with the US itself and we hope it can carefully consider that."

President Hu praised the renewal of military exchanges with the US when he met Gates on Tuesday.

Hu told Gates that his long-delayed visit signaled new progress in exchanges between the two armed forces and would help to improve trust and mutual understanding between the sides and lead to concrete improvements in relations between their military forces.

In his first visit to China since 2007, Gates, a former CIA director, will get a rare glimpse on Wednesday of the Second Artillery Corps of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) headquarters, the command center for China's nuclear and missile arsenal. He is scheduled to meet General Jing Zhiyuan, commander of the Second Artillery Corps.

Guan said the arrangement was made after a request from Gates.

"We believe exchanges with the US in all kinds of fields are beneficial. They'll add to our mutual trust and eliminate misunderstanding and miscalculations," Guan said.

Gates will be the second US defense secretary to visit the command center, following his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.

The US Defense Secretary made special mention of the reported anti-ship missile under development in China. The Chinese military did not confirm the reports.

Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said at the Monday joint news conference that the development of the Chinese military was defensive in nature and still lagged far behind armed forces in developed countries.

Yuan Peng, an expert in US studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the visit to the Second Artillery Corps shows that the US military is now paying attention to both the intention and capability of the PLA, while a decade ago it just cared about Beijing's military aims.

The three-day visit to China will help the Pentagon to draw a deeper blueprint on its China strategy and even its Asia-Pacific strategy, he said.

Rear Admiral Yang Yi, former head of strategic studies at the PLA's National Defense University, said the "scholarly" manner of Gates had facilitated his exchanges with the Chinese leaders, making him one of the preferred US officials for China to deal with.

"He is knowledgeable and rational," Yang said. "When talking with Gates, we focus more on figuring out what are our mutual interests, the most important factor in our relations, not talking tough."

Gates also met Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Tuesday, a rare arrangement for a visiting US defense secretary which observers said reflected the importance of China-US relations and the urgency of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Zhou Wa contributed to this story.

By Li Xiaokun and Cheng Guangjin, China Daily
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