New military talks could begin soon: Gates

The United States and China could hold first-of-their-kind formal military talks in the first half of this year, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Last Updated: Jan 12, 2011, 00:24 AM IST

Beijing: The United States and China could
hold first-of-their-kind formal military talks in the first
half of this year, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday.

The security talks would be a step beyond current
contacts largely focused on maritime issues, and would cover
nuclear and missile defense issues as well as cyber warfare
and military uses of space.

China broke off lower-level military ties a year ago
in protest of a huge US arms sale to Taiwan, Beijing`s rival.

Gates said he told Chinese officials that while the US cannot
promise not to make further sales, the US might reconsider
military support to Taiwan in the future.

That would depend on a lowering of tension between
China and Taiwan, and "would be an evolutionary and long-term
process," Gates said. Taiwan considers itself independent from
China, while China claims the self-governing island as a
province. The United States officially considers Taiwan a part
of China but also supplies it with defensive arms to deter a
Chinese attack.

China conducted the first test flight of a
radar-evading fighter jet hours before Gates was to discuss
the proposal with Chinese President Hu Jintao today. Gates
told reporters afterward that he asked Hu whether the test was
timed intentionally to coincide with Gates` visit and that he
took Hu "at his word" that it was not.

A senior US defense official said Hu did not appear to
know about the flight until Gates asked about it. The official
spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised
to discuss the confidential meeting publicly.

Timing of the flight could be read two ways.
It answers US calls to lower the secrecy around
Chinese military developments, since China allowed members of
the public to watch and post images of the radar-evading plane
on the Internet. It was also an unsubtle reminder to the
United States of China`s growing military prowess and
potential as an arms manufacturer.

While still years from deployment, the J-20 plane
could be an eventual rival to the US F-22 Raptor.

Hu praised the renewal of lower-level military
exchanges with the US during his meeting with Gates. China
made sure Gates saw the highest-level officials during a
four-day visit that will also include a rare glimpse of
China`s nuclear weapons command centre.

Hu will visit Washington next week, and both countries
wanted to repair damaged military ties beforehand.

The visit closes a rocky year in which China pulled
out of military talks and withheld an earlier invitation to
Gates in protest of a nearly USD 6.4 billion arms sale to
Taiwan.

Gates` long-delayed visit would be "very helpful in
promoting mutual understanding and trust and facilitate
improvement and development of military-to-military relations
between our two countries," Hu said during their meeting at
the Great Hall of the People, the seat of parliament in
downtown Beijing.

Gates told Hu that President Barack Obama was looking
forward to his visit. He said his meetings with Defense
Minister Liang Guanglie and other Chinese officials had
allowed him to "advance the objectives that you and President
Obama set of a long-term improvement in the relationship
between the US and the Chinese military."

The United States invited the wider military
discussions, saying it would clear the air between the
Pacific`s reigning military power and the rising one, and help
prevent accidental conflict. China has publicly agreed only to
consider entering what Gates calls a strategic security
dialogue, but Gates said the country`s political and military
leaders are "taking the proposal seriously."

The People`s Liberation Army has been the Chinese
institution least receptive to wider contact with the West and
with the United States in particular. The reticence is partly
the result of decades of training and dogma that cast the US
as an adversary and partly a desire to mask the huge gap
between US and Chinese military abilities.

PTI