US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has pleaded with Beijing not to let US arms sales to Taiwan disrupt the newly re-established relationship between the US and Chinese militaries, media reports said.
The arms sales were political decisions that didn’t rest with the secretary of defense, Gates told his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie (梁光烈), during a bilateral meeting in Hanoi where both men were attending a conference of ASEAN defense ministers.
However, early reports indicate that the closed-door 30-minute meeting may not have gone well and that arms sales to Taiwan remain a major obstacle.
The Wall Street Journal said on Monday night that military ties between the two countries “remained stunted by political differences regarding Taiwan.”
“The tentative nature of the talks also highlighted US fears that Beijing will halt ties again, whether over the next Taiwan arms sale, or tensions in the South China Sea,” it said.
Reuters said that Gates and Liang had “locked horns” over US arms sales to Taiwan, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) said they “clashed” over the sales and “struggled to shore up fragile military relations.”
AFP said “China pinpointed the weapons sales to Taiwan as the main hurdle to improving military ties with the United States.”
It said Gates “voiced frustration at Beijing’s stance.”
According to a Pentagon release, Gates said: “I outlined to him [Liang] why I believe it’s important that, indeed, when there are disagreements, it’s all the more important to talk with each other more, not less. I noted the need for strategic dialogue on everything from nuclear weapons and strategy to missile defense and outer space security, as well as areas in which we can cooperate.”
“The secretary pointed out in the meeting that matters such as arms sales to Taiwan shouldn’t disrupt the relationship,” the Pentagon release said.
“If there is a discussion to be had, it is at the political level,” it quoted Gates as saying.
He said that at that level US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) had publicly advocated a sustained and reliable military relationship between their countries.
“Having greater clarity and understanding of each other is essential to preventing mistrust, miscalculations and mistakes. I believed it in the dialogue with the Soviet Union over 30 years and I believe it’s important with China,” Gates said.
China suspended direct military-to-military relations with Washington in January after Obama announced a major new arms package for Taiwan and this latest meeting was meant to provide a new launch for the relationship.
Rear Admiral Guan Youfei (關友飛), deputy director of the external affairs office of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, said after the meeting that China would work to lift military ties with the US “out of the current on-again, off-again cycle” and encourage stable and steady development.
During their meeting, Liang invited Gates to visit Beijing early next year, though no date was set.
The Washington Post said last week that although no one expected resumed military ties to result in any immediate agreements, “with China’s military taking an increasingly prominent role in fashioning China’s foreign policy, it’s good news that the People’s Liberation Army has agreed to talks again.”
It said the move was seen as another step to improve ties in the run-up to a visit to Washington early next year by Hu.
US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy is expected to host more wide-ranging defense talks with China in Washington next month.
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