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Updated: January 11, 2011 02:36 IST

U.S.-China military discussions reveal frictions

Narayan Lakshman
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U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, with China's Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie after answering questions at Bayi Building in Beijing on Monday. Photo:AP
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, with China's Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie after answering questions at Bayi Building in Beijing on Monday. Photo:AP

In comments to media made in Beijing, United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chinese Minister of National Defence General Liang Guanglie suggested that they had broad agreement on the need for stronger bilateral military ties. Yet they respectively hinted that China’s development of a stealth aircraft and the U.S.’ arms sales to Taiwan last year were points of disagreement.

Following a series of meetings between top defence officials from the two countries this week, a precursor to Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington on January 19, Mr. Gates said that “In order to reduce the chances of miscommunication, misunderstanding or miscalculation, it is important that our military-to-military ties are solid, consistent and not subject to shifting political winds.”

Regarding China’s development of a new, fifth-generation stealth fighter, which was said to have demonstrated anti-satellite and anti-ship ballistic missile capability, the American Forces Press Services quoted a U.S. defence official saying, “China must defend itself, but... the Chinese should be clear about their strategy and doctrine. That would go a long way toward dispelling concerns about the Chinese military.”

At a press briefing, Mr. Liang responded to the issue arguing that the gap between the Chinese military and more advanced countries was “at least two or three decades,” and that the military improvements were not targeting any one nation.

Touching upon the U.S.’ arms sales to Taiwan last year, following which Beijing broke off military-to-military contact with Washington, Minister Liang noted, “On that our position has been clear and consistent: We are against it, because the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan seriously damaged China's core interests.”

Mr. Liang added, “We do not want to see that happen again. Neither do we want the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan [to] again and further disrupt the development of our military-to-military relationship.”

Yet both leaders noted that the high-level meetings this week laid down a “very solid foundation for the settlement of our differences and the future progress of our relations.”

In particular they expressed solidarity regarding discussions on North Korea and the crisis in the Korean peninsula. Mr. Gates said the U.S. and China could “work to maintain peace and security on the Korean peninsula by facilitating engagement between the two Koreas and working toward the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.”

The AFPS also reported that Mr. Gates assured Chinese military officials that “American exercises off the Korean coast are not in any way directed at the Chinese, but rather are driven by growing concern over North Korea.”

He was quoted as saying “Our efforts have been directed at deterring further provocations on the part of North Korea... This is an area where the U.S. and China have worked together cooperatively, and we acknowledge and appreciate China's constructive actions late last fall in terms of trying to tamp down tensions on the peninsula.”

Keywords: USChina ties

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