China, US hold defense talks despite frictions

Updated: 2011-12-08 08:05

By Li Xiaokun and Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)

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China, US hold defense talks despite frictions

Ma Xiaotian (right), deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, and Michele Flournoy, US undersecretary of defense for policy, attend annual China-US defense talks in Beijing on Wednesday. [Photo / Agencies]

BEIJING - High-ranking officials from China and the United States held their annual defense consultative talks (DCT) as planned on Wednesday in Beijing, despite recent frictions including US arms sales to Taiwan.

"The fact that the consultations took place as scheduled shows that both countries are being sincere about maintaining military exchanges," Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), told US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy at the start of their talks.

The consultations marked the first engagement between the defense ministries of both countries since the US announced in September its $5.85-billion arms sale to Taiwan, including upgrades for 145 of Taiwan's fighter jets.

Beijing later delayed some planned military exchanges with the US such as a visit to China by Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the US Pacific Command, and joint China-US anti-piracy exercises.

Last week, a Chinese military spokesman criticized Washington's plan to strengthen its military presence in Australia as "Cold War thinking" that will destabilize the Asia-Pacific region.

"Hopefully, both sides will make the best of this opportunity to expand common ground, keep risks under control and avoid misjudgment," Ma said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on the same day at a regular news conference that China's defense policy should not be a cause for alarm.

"China from beginning to end pursues a defensive national defense policy, and sticks to the path of peaceful development," Hong said.

"China's development has given the countries of the world an important opportunity. It hasn't presented and will not present a danger to any country."

Xinhua News Agency said topics up for discussion at the meeting included bilateral military relations and US arms sales to Taiwan, as well as piracy, and the situations in the Korean Peninsula, South China Sea, Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Reuters said the meeting itself was "a sign the countries are trying to keep relations on an even keel despite tensions".

The US delegation consisted of nearly 20 representatives from the US Defense Department, the State Department, the Joint Staff, the Pacific Command, the Navy and the Air Force.

Yuan Peng, director of the American Studies Center at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said Beijing's decision to hold the DCT as scheduled was based on a maturing understanding of its relations with Washington.

"As bilateral relations are challenged on various economic issues such as the exchange rate of the renminbi, military ties have come to the fore, to balance the relationship. Now the DCT not only serves as a defense dialogue but also helps to stabilize relations between the two countries," Yuan said.

The decision to sell arms to Taiwan was not made by the Pentagon but by the US State Department, he added. "It is actually a diplomatic problem."

The fact that the US delegation includes officials from the State Department shows that Washington too does not merely consider the DCT to be military talks, Yuan said.

"Nobody wants a conflict, and the US cannot afford a conflict with China now," he said.

The DCT, established in 1997, is the highest-level bilateral dialogue between the two militaries.

Flournoy and her delegation will leave Beijing on Thursday.