U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday hosted with fanfare his Chinese counterpart for security talks that resulted in the two men agreeing to encourage more military dialogue between their two nations, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Dec. 12, 2011).
The U.S. defense chief and Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie agreed to stage sometime this year a bilateral anti-piracy maritime drill in the Gulf of Aden and reached cautious agreement on working to combat cyber threats. The two nuclear powers also discussed antimissile issues, the spread of nuclear weapons, and North Korea, according to the Pentagon.
Liang's visit to Washington was the first such trip by a Chinese defense chief in almost a decade. The two sides were careful to avoid discussing recent diplomatic incidents such as the fate of a high-profile Chinese human rights activist who has requested refuge in the United States.
The U.S. military for some time has sought to establish a routine and high-level defense dialogue with China with the aim of improving each nation's understanding of the other's defense posture. But that dialogue has been erratic, with Beijing on multiple occasions breaking off military engagement with Washington as punishment for U.S. weapon sales to Taiwan.
Liang announced that Panetta has been invited to travel to China sometime in the latter half of 2012, an action that U.S. officials see as a positive sign of improving bilateral military ties.
The United States is worried about the implications of recently developed Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles, underwater vessels and orbiting space platforms undermining its naval dominance in the Asia-Pacific (see GSN, March 19). The Chinese government, though, maintains its efforts to modernize its armed forces are for solely nonoffensive purposes and blames the United States for casting China's rise as a global danger (Dan De Luce, Agence France-Presse/Google News, May 7).
China is also concerned about the ramifications to strategic stability of a U.S. effort to develop a regional ballistic missile shield with cooperation from Australia, Japan and South Korea (see GSN, April 12).
At a press conference following his talk with Liang, Panetta said, "We share many interests across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond from humanitarian assistance to concerns about weapons of mass destruction to terrorism to drug interdictions to trade to counterpiracy," according to a Pentagon release.
"We recognize that the United States and China will not always agree on every issue but we believe our military-to-military dialogue is critical to ensuring that we avoid dangerous misunderstandings and misperceptions that could lead to crisis," the defense secretary said (U.S. Defense Department release, May 7).