Military lags in ties, US ambassador says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 June, 2010, 12:00am

Beijing's freeze on military exchanges with Washington could remain for some time yet, the US ambassador to China warned last night, saying the relationship was 'seriously lagging' broader ties.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman delivered an otherwise upbeat assessment of an increasingly complex Sino-US relationship in a speech to the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in Tsim Sha Tsui, saying he was hopeful that President Hu Jintao would visit his US counterpart, Barack Obama, in Washington later this year or early next year.

'There is trust ... the relationship is strong, stable and resilient even if we do lose cruising altitude from time to time,' he said.

Speaking afterwards, he said recent improvements in the broader relationship had yet to be felt on the military side.

'I think it will continue as it is for a bit longer and then I anticipate a pickup, I'm not sure when,' Huntsman said. 'As yet there are no signs of real progress ...

'It's the one end of the relationship that is seriously lagging and one that we want to see strengthened.'

He said the US side was keen to push ahead with exchanges of officers and search and rescue co-operation while seeking to foster greater openness over China's increasing military spending.

Beijing put military exchanges on ice earlier this year following Obama's decision to sell a fresh package of arms to Taiwan and host the Dalai Lama in the White House. Hopes of the thaw in the wake of the Security and Economic Dialogue in Beijing last month were scotched after Beijing shelved a long-planned visit from US Defence Secretary Robert Gates earlier this month.

Reflecting on the first year of his ambassadorship, he said that with on-going mutual trust, he was confident the two sides could develop not just the bilateral relationship but broader co-operation on global issues as well.

While there were deep-set differences that both sides had to understand and appreciate, there were more issues on which agreement could be found.

'It will require multiple leaps of faith and a reservoir of trust,' he said.

Huntsman said that the relationship with Beijing would 'never be a paradise of panda-huggers nor a cold war stare-down, but probably something in between.'