Friendly tone to Sino-US talks
Continued Sino-US military relations - even in times of trouble - are critically important, outgoing US Defence Secretary Dr Robert Gates told his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, last night.
The pair's final meeting before Gates leaves office later this month opened with both defence chiefs acknowledging improvements in military ties compared to the chill of last year.
Liang noted 'progress' while Gates said the relationship was moving forward, despite considerable work still ahead.
'As I leave office at the end of this month, I believe that our military relationship is on a more positive trajectory,' Gates said.
In the face of ongoing flux in the security situations at both regional and international levels, it was crucial for both sides to ensure healthy and stable development, China News Service quoted Liang as telling Gates.
The pair met for an hour before the opening of the informal Shangri-La Dialogue on security issues in Singapore. Liang's appearance marked the first time Beijing has sent a ministerial-level official to the meeting, attended by defence chiefs from across the wider region and beyond.
Officials close to the meeting said a wide range of regional issues were touched on, though Gates' appeal for an ongoing relationship appeared to anticipate troubles ahead. Liang, on the other hand, told Gates the two countries should see each other as partners, not rivals.
While some Southeast Asian states continue to urge a robust US position on rising tensions over the South China Sea, Taiwan looms as another potential Sino-US sticking point. Some US senators are calling for sales of F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan - a move certain to rile Beijing, which froze ties after earlier weapons sales in February last year.
Ahead of the meeting, Gates said the US would not try to 'hold down' an emerging China, and he acknowledged its role as a global power. But he added that Beijing had learnt from the folly of military build-up in the former Soviet Union, and would concentrate on its operations within Asia.
Liang also met his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh last night - a meeting that comes amid fresh Sino-Vietnamese tensions over oil exploration in the South China Sea.
Opening the conference , Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak urged restraint in a region that must never again degenerate into the 'bilateralism of the cold war'.