China is studying a proposal from the U.S. to begin strategic security talks that would cover nuclear arms, missile defense, space and cyber issues, as the countries seek to improve their military-to-military relations.

The Chinese side noticed the proposal of [U.S. Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates on the conducting of the Strategic Security Dialogue and we are studying that, Gen. Liang Guanglie, the Chinese Minister for National Defense told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday.

Military-to-military talks have been strained as a result of large U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and increasing assertiveness by China over waters in the South China Sea, which includes major international shipping lanes.

Gates said it was important that the talks are not subject to shifting political winds.

Gates was asked by a reporter if future talks would not be called off if the U.S. were to make another large sale to Taiwan and if there had been a change of heart among the Chinese military.

Liang, however, replied first, saying that China's position on sales had been clear and consistent.

We are against it, Liang said, saying the sales seriously damaged China's core interests and we do not want to see that happen again, neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will happen again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship.

In early 2010, the Obama administration approved an arms sales package to Taiwan worth over $6 billion for anti-missile missiles, military helicopters and communications equipment for fighter jets.

Liang said talks with Gates were productive, not only discussing positive elements but also difficulties and obstacles in the way of the militaries' relations in a very candid manner.

Gates said he was confident that both sides are on the road to fulfilling the mandate that our two Presidents have given to us: to strengthen the military-to-military relationships that they both consider an underdeveloped part of the overall U.S.-China relationship.

Strategic talks, if taken up by both sides, would be added to several other dialogues, including the Defense Consultative Talks (DCD), Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT), as well as discussions under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA).

I was pleased that General Liang noted and said that the Chinese side would consider and study the beginning of a strategic security dialogue - as part of a broader Strategic and Economic Dialogue - that covers nuclear missile defense, space, and cyber issues, Gates said.

Liang said top Chinese military and U.S. officials will hold talks during the first half of 2011. The meeting also included in depth conversations about regional security interests, including the situation on the Korean peninsula, he said.

Gates said a major concern of ours and clearly a major topic of discussion on my visit here to Beijing was to inform China that recent large-scale military exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea were not directed in any way at China.

Gates said he and Liang agreed to establish a working group that will develop a new framework for improving ties between the U.S. and Chinese militaries.

Gates said at a separate meeting with reporters that he asked Chinese President Hu Jintao if the Chinese military had performed a flight test of its J-20 jet fighter, which is expected to be a rival the U.S. F-22 Raptor. Images of the plane in flight had been posted to various Chinese web sites, prompting speculation of what message China was trying to send in light of the talks.

[H]e said the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a pre-planned test. And that's where we left it, he said.