China and the US yesterday hailed defense talks in Beijing as a step forward in mutual understanding and agreed to meet again next month to discuss how to avoid a repeat of recent high-seas standoffs.
However, in an illustration of lingering tensions, China also called on the US to cancel an arms sale to Taiwan and stay away from waters where this year’s maritime confrontations took place.
The talks were held amid military tensions between the two giants linked to those issues, as well as US concern that China was being opaque about its long-term military build-up.
“These talks took us another step down the road towards more openness and transparency,” US Undersecretary for Defense Michele Flournoy told reporters after the two days of meetings ended.
“The United States does not view China as an adversary. We think that as our relationship develops there will be a great deal on which we can act as partners,” Flournoy said.
Lieutenant-General Ma Xiaotian (馬嘯天), the deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army general staff and China’s delegate to the talks, also said during a separate briefing that the talks would have a “positive influence” on defense ties.
But he reiterated China’s demand for a planned US$6.5 billion US arms sale to Taiwan to be scrapped, calling such deals “the greatest obstacle to Sino-American relations.”
China briefly cut off military exchanges with the US last October over the arms package for Taiwan.
Flournoy said the administration of US President Barack Obama had not yet made a decision on the sale.
Ma also said China “reaffirmed its opposition to ships and aircraft conducting surveillance activities in the exclusive economic zone of China.”
The two countries’ vessels have been involved in a series of incidents this year, triggering US accusations of “aggressive” Chinese behavior in international waters.
China, meanwhile, complained the US navy infringed its maritime territory.
The two sides agreed to deal specifically with the issue in talks next month, Flournoy said.
“The US, under international law, exercises its freedom of navigation in various parts around the world, including the Asia-Pacific, given our vital interests here,” she said.
“We’re putting the emphasis on taking care to avoid any unwanted incidents,” Flournoy said.
She called next month’s session “a sign of our willingness to try to work things through in a very pragmatic and cooperative way.”
US officials said they did not know where those talks would take place.