U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday called on China to deepen its armed force contacts with the United States to limit the chances of miscommunications that could result in crises, Reuters reported.
While the two nuclear powers have notable conflicting stances on Asia-Pacific matters, stronger bilateral relations would "advance peace and stability and prosperity in the entire Asia-Pacific region," Panetta said during a visit to Beijing.
The Pentagon chief met with Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie for frank talks on such contentious subjects as the U.S. military's deployment of additional forces in the region, weapon exports to Taiwan, digital defense, and China and Japan's conflicting island ownership claims.
The Obama administration would like to see Panetta's trip to China -- his first as Defense secretary -- result in more reliable bilateral military contacts. In the past, China has expressed its displeasure with U.S. policies on Taiwan by breaking off military engagement.
"Our goal is to have the United States and China establish the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and the key to that is to establish a strong military-to-military relationship," Panetta said in comments to a gathering of Chinese and U.S. defense officials. "The key is to have senior-level actions like we are engaging in that reduce the potential for miscalculation, that foster greater understanding and that expand trust between our two countries."
The Pentagon wants to see more transparency from Beijing on the reasons behind its accelerated armed forces growth. Meanwhile, the People's Liberation Army is suspicious the United States' so-called pivot toward Asia is secretly aimed at countering China's projection of regional force. Washington maintains it is primarily a response to the North Korean threat.
Panetta on Wednesday is slated to meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely anticipated to be promoted to president in 2013.
Meanwhile, Beijing worries that a second U.S. X-band radar to be deployed in Japan could be used against China's new antiship ballistic missiles that are seen as a threat to deployed aircraft carriers in the region, the Washington Times quoted one expert as saying on Monday.
The People's Liberation Army views its Dongfeng 21D "carrier killer" missile as a critical element of its strategy to push back against the U.S. Navy's ability to send warships close to Chinese waters, according to GlobalSecurity.org fellow Timothy Brown.
Brown said fielding another long-range radar unit in Japan is a result of Tokyo's growing worry about North Korea's missile arsenal.
A number of Chinese academics and defense experts are not convinced the new radar will be truly focused on North Korea, according to a Tuesday South China Morning Post report.
China Arms Control and Disarmament Association senior researcher Xu Guangyu accused Panetta of employing "deceitful words."
In announcing the radar site agreement with Japan on Monday, Panetta said, "the purpose of this is to enhance our ability to defend Japan. It's also designed to help forward-deployed U.S. forces, and it will also be effective in protecting the U.S. homeland from the North Korean ballistic missile threat."
Xu, though, insisted that "they (will) target China as the missile defense system is able to provide 360 degrees of coverage."
The United States is attempting to build up the missile defenses of the Asia-Pacific through means including technology exports to regional allies and the deployment of additional warships equipped with Aegis antiballistic missile technology.
Russia, already a vehement critic of U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts in Europe, on Monday called on Washington to take other nations' defense needs into consideration before it fields an additional radar in Japan, Interfax reported.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said "the potential deployment of the second antimissile radar on the Japanese territory will considerably enhance the capabilities of the American missile defense system in the Asia-Pacific region."
"We are urging our American partners to balance their missile defense efforts against real challenges and threats so as not to damage the security interests of other members of the international community," the statement continued.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul fired back in a Twitter posting that "missile defense systems in Japan pose no threat to Russia's strategic deterrent," according to a separate Interfax report.