China says it welcomes visit by US defence secretary
China's military said Thursday it would welcome a future visit by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, state media reported, one month after a planned trip was called off.
"We still welcome him to visit China at a time which is workable for both sides," Xinhua news agency quoted General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), as saying.
The apparent olive branch comes after Beijing called off a visit by Gates in early June amid military tensions between the two sides, with Gates saying the cancellation showed the PLA was reluctant to engage on defence issues.
The brief Xinhua report gave no other information.
China has denounced US arms sales to Taiwan unveiled in January, and the cancellation of Gates' trip appeared to fit a pattern of stepping back from exchanges with the American military to convey displeasure.
After his visit was cancelled, Gates suggested there was a rift between Chinese civilian and military leaders on the issue.
The US defence secretary said it was his "opinion that the PLA is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership of the country".
Gates had planned to visit Beijing as part of an Asian tour.
China in January suspended all military exchanges in protest over the US arms sales to Taiwan, but some officials from the two sides have since met.
Last month, Gates said Beijing's stance "makes little sense", noting that such sales had been going for decades.
Taiwan and China split in 1949 after Communist forces defeated the Nationalists in a civil war and took the mainland. Self-ruled Taiwan has since relied heavily on US military hardware to defend the island.
Gates said Washington would not alter its policy and argued that US weapons sales to Taiwan helped maintain regional peace given China's growing military buildup.
Another source of military tension between China and the United States has been the South China Sea, with Washington calling for unfettered access to the resource-rich area.
Beijing, which claims the sea as its own territorial waters, has increasingly asserted its sovereignty there.
Gates has said closer ties between the two nation's militaries are vital to avoid misunderstandings.
AFP: China says it welcomes visit by US defence secretary