USA defence secretary in fresh bid to repair China relations
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, will visit China next month, as the two countries make another effort to build a lasting military-to-military dialogue.
The planned trip will be the first such visit since Donald Rumsfeld travelled to the country in 2005. Since then, military contacts have been frequently disrupted over wide-ranging disagreements and distrust.
“I would hope that we can sustain that military-to-military relationship as opposed to what it has been, which has been on-and-off over the years, which just doesn’t do either one of us ... any good,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, when announcing Mr Gates’ planned visit at a press conference in Tokyo on Thursday.
Adm Mullen also used the announcement to call on Beijing to apply more pressure on North Korea in light of its recent aggression. “China must lead and guide North Korea to a better future. There is too much at stake for this sort of myopia,” he said in a direct criticism of Beijing.
“There is no country in the world that has more influence in Pyongyang than China. That’s part of responsible leadership. That’s part of being a global power. And I would hope they heed this call and do that.”
The remarks come as Washington is trying to win over Japan to take part in joint exercises with South Korea, a move towards a full trilateral security alliance that is viewed with unease in Beijing.
Mr Gates had long hoped to visit China, but was rebuffed by Beijing the last time the Pentagon tried to engineer a visit.
The attempt to bring things back on track is part of a broader effort to repair bilateral ties in preparation for the visit of Hu Jintao, China’s president, to the US next month.
The two sides only resumed military dialogue in October after China cut contacts in January in reaction to an announcement by the US government that it had approved $6bn in weapons sales to Taiwan.
That suspension came after less than a full year of dialogue following an earlier cut-off also by Beijing.
US defence officials have repeatedly accused China of allowing other issues to obstruct military-to-military contacts, and to use military dialogue – or the lack of it – as a tool to punish the US.
“There is still deep distrust between the two sides,” said Jia Qingguo, a security expert at Peking University.
The US military and the People’s Liberation Army do not see eye to eye on a series of other issues. Last year the US accused China of harassing its ships in international waters, while Beijing accused the US of illegally entering its waters.
This year several PLA officers shocked foreign observers with high-profile hawkish comments about China’s military ambitions and the US military presence in Asia.
FT.com / Asia-Pacific - Gates in fresh bid to repair China relations