Dialogue at the Pentagon a major boost for Sino-US ties The mainland's top military official met US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon - the highest-level military dialogue between the two countries since a mid-air collision over Hainan five years ago strained ties. The meeting on Tuesday was the latest step in an expansion of military relations between the powers. General Guo Boxiong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, was received with an official honour cordon. The general said the purpose of his visit was to increase exchanges and co-operation between the two armed forces. He expressed the hope it would help enhance mutual understanding and trust and foster friendship, Xinhua reported. The two sides agreed to conduct joint maritime search and rescue exercises this year and further promote exchanges between military academies and young officers of the two armed forces, said Xinhua. Pentagon officials described the meeting as a success. A spokesman said issues covered included 'North Korea, US-China defence relations ... and US-PLA naval co-operation such as search-and-rescue exercises'. Military ties between the US and China were 'the best since 2001', said Qian Lihua, deputy director of the Defence Ministry's foreign affairs office. Washington and Beijing suspended military relations in 2001 after a US spy plane and a PLA fighter jet collided. The PLA pilot was killed and the US plane boarded and detained in Hainan. Mr Rumsfeld, along with many in the administration and the US Congress, has voiced suspicions about China's growing military budget. But since 2001, relations have gradually warmed. Both sides are working to develop a set of protocols so that incidents like the collision can be handled without precipitating a crisis. They have also developed mechanisms to work on maritime security, disaster relief and military environmental protection. Last month China was invited for the first time to observe a large US exercise in the Pacific. It is expected to offer a reciprocal invitation. Still, the meeting between General Guo and Mr Rumsfeld was not expected to advance the relationship significantly. 'Military talks with the Chinese are never very substantive,' said Dan Blumenthal, a China expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank. Dr Blumenthal said the US side wanted to attain some concrete agreements but China was more interested in the visit's symbolism. General Guo also met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Xinhua said. Earlier he visited the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego. He will address students at the National Defence University in Washington and visit West Point military academy. The Chinese embassy said the delegation includes Lei Mingqiu, political commissar of the People's Liberation Army's Nanjing area command; Zhao Xingfa, deputy commander of the PLA Navy; Liu Chengjun , deputy commander of the PLA Air Force; and Yu Jixun, the PLA Second Artillery Corps' chief of staff.