The United States “does not consider China as an enemy”. At the same time, the U.S. and the new Japanese government “are in a position to move forward” in implementing a controversial accord on the status of an American military base in Okinawa.

These aspects of Washington's current military posture were spelt out by U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates at a plenary session of the ninth Asia Security Summit, being organised here by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

During another plenary session, Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa did not dispute Dr. Gates' assertion, while Ma Xiaotian, Deputy Chief of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, cited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as an “obstacle to the military-to-military ties” between Beijing and Washington.

On these arms sales, approved by successive U.S. Presidents including Barack Obama, Dr. Gates said: “The items that were considered for sale [to Taiwan] were carefully thought through, with a focus on ensuring that we were providing [only] defensive capabilities and, at the same time, underscoring our continued opposition to independence for Taiwan.”

Taking exception to what he saw as a sudden pause in China's willingness to sustain a military-to-military engagement with the U.S., especially at his level over this arms sale issue, Dr. Gates said “there is still a very positive agenda out there for the two of us” in defence-related dialogue.

General Ma took the line that the military-to-military contacts were now suspended only at the highest level. U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and the American military's reconnaissance missions along the East China Sea were not helpful. This raised the question whether the U.S. was just paying “lip service” to the notion of opposing independence for Taiwan.

On other issues, Dr. Gates asserted that there was no room for a question-mark over America's continuing military strength and fighting capabilities. He saw no valid comparison between North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship, on one side, and Israel's killing of pro-Palestinian activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. And, “it will be a very bad precedent” in Asia if “nothing” were to happen as an international response to North Korea's action, he emphasised.

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