U.S., China defence officials meet for talks

By @ibtimes on

Chinese and U.S. defence officials met on Wednesday for their highest-level talks since Washington's arms sales to Taiwan in September, state news agency Xinhua said, a sign the countries are trying to keep relations on an even keel despite tensions.

The annual round of consultations was led by Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army General Staff, and Michele Flournoy, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, Xinhua said.

The fact that the consultations took place as scheduled shows that both countries are being sincere about maintaining military exchanges, Xinhua quoted Ma as saying. Hopefully, both sides will make the best of this opportunity to expand common ground, keep risks under control and avoid misjudgement.

The arms deal for Taiwan is one of several irritants. In September, Beijing stepped up condemnation of Washington for the deal, saying it could disrupt military exchanges.

The talks, however, come a day after Chinese President Hu Jintao urged navy personnel to make extended preparations for warfare in order to make greater contributions to safeguarding national security and world peace.

Hu made the unusually blunt comments during a meeting with deputies of the party congress of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Beijing, according to a Xinhua report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, however, his country's defence policy should not be a cause for alarm.

China from beginning to end pursues a defensive national defense policy, and sticks to the path of peaceful development, Hong said at a news briefing. China's development has given the countries of the world an important opportunity. It has not in the past, and it will not in the future, present a danger to any country.

U.S. PIVOT

U.S. President Barack Obama's diplomatic pivot into the Asia-Pacific region prompted speculation in Beijing that the move was part of a broader policy to encircle China.

China's military denounced the United States and Australia last week for upgrading military ties, warning the move could erode trust and fan Cold War-era antagonism.

Recent talk of a possible defence pact between India, Australia and the United States also could fuel China's worries. Both Australia and India have denied plans for such a pact.

Hu has made clear that he wants to avoid reopening the rifts that dented ties with Washington earlier this year. Hu retires late next year, when the United States is focused on its presidential race, making China's leaders especially reluctant to risk diplomatic rows.

Xinhua said the two sides were expected to discuss bilateral military relations, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and the situations on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea, where Beijing's assertiveness has sparked fears among Southeast Asian neighbours and rival claimants to parts of the sea.

China opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan on grounds they sabotage plans for reunification with the island. Washington wants Beijing and Taiwan to determine their future peacefully and says it is obliged by law to help the island defend itself.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, additional reporting by Michael Martina, editing by Brian Rhoads and Sanjeev Miglani)

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