Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Military men get back to the table for US-Sino talks

TOP OF THE LIST Chinese officials claimed they would clarify their stance on Taiwan, which they said would be the main topic of debate

AP AND REUTERS , BEIJING

US and Chinese officials added to the recovering military ties between their countries yesterday by opening a round of high-level defense consultations.

Washington regards military ties with Beijing as a key part of their relations. But contacts were cut off following the collision of a US Navy surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter jet three years ago, and are recuperating slowly.

Delegations to the consultations were led by Douglas Feith, a US undersecretary of defense, and Xiong Guangkai (熊光楷), deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army.

China's official Xinhua News Agency announced the start of the talks, but the two sides didn't immediately release any details of the agenda.

However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the officials were due to discuss Taiwan during consultations.

"The Taiwan issue is the most central and the most sensitive issue in China-US relations," spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue (章啟月) told a news conference.

"Chinese [civilian] leaders and military leaders will clarify China's stand on Taiwan to the US side again during the consultations," Zhang said without elaborating.

The consultations are due to end today.

The meetings come three weeks after General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became the highest-ranking US officer to visit Beijing since 1997. Myers said the two sides were making "good progress" in military relations.

The meetings are the sixth installment in an annual series first held in 1997 under an agreement signed by then-presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin (江澤民). The last gathering took place in Washington in December 2002.

Though both sides say they want closer military ties, observers don't expect them to hold joint maneuvers any time soon because Washington and Beijing are too wary of each other.

Instead, Myers, while in Beijing, suggested joint search-and-rescue exercises, educational exchanges and additional visits by warships to ports in each country. A Chinese warship recently stopped in the US territory of Guam.

Military relations soured following the collision of the US Navy EP-3E plane and the Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea in April 2001.

The Chinese pilot was never found and the American crew made an emergency landing on Hainan, where they were held for 11 days. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld then broke off military contacts with Beijing.

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