Thursday, October 8, 2009

China, U.S. Resume Mil-to-Mil Talks

Defense News


China, U.S. Resume Mil-to-Mil Talks

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Military talks between China and the United States resumed Feb. 27, at the same time a U.S. military delegation was visiting Taiwan to discuss arms sales and closer military relations.

David Sedney, a U.S. deputy assistant defense secretary, led the Beijing delegation for the annual Defense Policy Coordination Talks with Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, director­general of the Foreign Affairs Office at China’s Ministry of National Defense. The two-day talks follow a Feb. 20 visit there by new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“We expect the U.S. side to take concrete measures for the resumption and development of our military ties,” Qian said in a news release, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Qian said better military ties depend on U.S. positions on arms sales to Taiwan.

Military ties were suspended in October, when the United States released a $6.5 billion arms package to Taiwan that included Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense systems and AH-64D Apache attack helicopters. Last week, the United States and Taiwan finalized an agreement in Taipei on the sale of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Continued U.S. arms sales and military support for Taiwan have soured relations with China on repeated occasions.

“Recently, Chinese leaders have mentioned many times the term ‘core interests.’ Taiwan, or U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, is definitely Beijing’s core concern,” said Alexander Huang, senior associate at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Washington.

“I do not know whether Sedney’s trip will get into detailed discussion on the issues this time, but I am pretty sure Beijing will make a statement.”

“As for the arms sales issue, and specific systems, I believe the Obama administration will sit down with counterparts in Taiwan for an honest discussion, albeit Beijing’s opposition,” Huang said. “Taipei and Washington can have a new start in mil-mil exchange as well.” Some Chinese scholars view resuming talks in Beijing positively, outside of heated Taiwan issues.

“The discussion will be a good start for mil-to-mil contact after Obama took power,” said Zhuang Jianzhong, vice director of the Center for National Strategy Studies at China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

“The two militaries have many common challenges in today’s world — terrorism, humanitarian assistance, safeguarding peace and stability of the Asia and the Pacific area, and the fight against piracy.”

Noting the fragility of past talks, Zhuang said he hopes the meetings bring about a “stable framework or some mechanism” for long-term mil-to-mil relations.
 China might have the upper hand on demands that the United States stop selling arms to Taiwan.

During Clinton’s visit to Beijing, she made an open plea for China to continue buying U.S. debt to keep the economy from sinking further. Washington also needs Beijing’s assistance in dealing with North Korea, which has threatened a new missile test.

“Taiwan obviously will be a sus­taining problem in ongoing U.S.-China mil-mil discussions,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, Taipei. Yang wonders if Beijing is prepared to set aside Taiwan issues for better U.S. relations.

“The resumption of U.S.-China mil-mil discussion, after Beijing’s sanction on the U.S. arms sales decision last year, symbolized the willingness to move on despite the existing problem,” he said. “It does not mean Obama is going to bend to Beijing, nor does it mean the administration is going to trade off arms sales for other benefits.”