Friday, December 10, 2010

U.S., China Talks Make ‘Step Forward,’ Pentagon Official Says

U.S., China Talks Make ‘Step Forward,’ Pentagon Official Says
By Viola Gienger - Dec 10, 2010 5:54 PM PT

The U.S. and China made progress in sharing information on military capabilities and in the tone of discussions, as defense officials resumed high-level talks after a rift over arms sales to Taiwan, the top Pentagon participant said.

“We have seen some gradual increases in China’s transparency and also in their candor with us,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday. “While I won’t say we agreed on every issue, where we did differ, we had a very candid and frank and productive exchange of views.”

The assessment differs from comments by Obama administration officials in recent weeks. They have criticized China’s reluctance to pressure North Korea about attacks on South Korea and the development of a uranium-enrichment plant. The U.S. has pressed China for more regular contact and openness about military capabilities, such as its missile arsenal.

Flournoy led the “defense consultative talks” at the Pentagon with her counterpart Ma Xiaotian, China’s deputy chief of general staff for the People’s Liberation Army. The two sides agreed during lower-level negotiations in Beijing in September to restore the meetings.

The day of discussions was book-ended by dinner at the Chinese Embassy on Dec. 9 and at the Capitol yesterday.

In an effort to demonstrate openness, the U.S. officials provided the Chinese with the same briefings about the administration’s nuclear posture, ballistic missile and space defense plans “as we gave our closest allies,” Flournoy said.

‘Interesting Brief’

“They gave us a very interesting brief about their defense doctrine and how they view the world and the role of their military in it,” she said. “In that sense, I think it was a step forward.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen have said they want military-to-military contacts with China unmarred by the periodic breakdowns over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan or other areas of disagreement, such as the South China Sea.

At the Pentagon, the two sides agreed tentatively on a series of meetings in the coming year, Flournoy said.

“We heard the Chinese also embrace the idea of the value of having a steady and reliable and sustained dialogue,” she said. “That was very good news to us.”

Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment after normal business hours.

Regional Tensions

Regional tensions have risen since the U.S. and its allies blamed North Korea for torpedoing the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors, and shelling South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island, killing four people, last month.

Mullen criticized China during visits to Seoul and Tokyo this week, saying Chinese officials were displaying “myopia” by being “unwilling” to use their influence as North Korea’s biggest ally.

“China must lead and guide North Korea to a better future,” Mullen said in Tokyo on Dec. 9. “There is too much at stake for this sort of myopia.”

Gates will visit China in January, Mullen said. Gates said earlier this year that he accepted a renewed invitation after China called off a tentatively planned visit.

Flournoy said the U.S. emphasized in the talks yesterday the need for North Korea to demonstrate its willingness to pare its nuclear program. The Obama administration has rebuffed Chinese calls for resuming six-nation talks with North Korea, saying that would only reward the regime for dangerous actions.

“It was a very productive comparing-of-notes, if you will, on the situation,” Flournoy said.

New Round

The talks at the Pentagon are the first in the on-again, off-again series held since 2007. They continue a round conducted in Beijing in June 2009 before the suspension earlier this year prompted by the U.S. announcement in January of a $6.4 billion weapons package for Taiwan. The planned sale includes advanced Lockheed Martin Corp. Patriot missiles, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters made by United Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. anti-ship Harpoon missiles.

Flournoy said after the Beijing meeting in 2009 that the U.S. and China have a “shared objective” in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at

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