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Gates Urges U.S.-China Focus on Common Interests Instead of Differences
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told his Chinese counterpart the two countries should seek to improve military relations that lag behind their economic ties, working together more on common interests without letting disputes get in the way. |
"In recent months, our two countries have made progress toward rectifying this imbalance by jointly identifying areas of cooperation," Gates told his Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie yesterday at the start of a meeting on the sidelines of the annual IISS Asia Security Summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
"As I leave office at the end of this month, I do so believing that our military relationship is on a more positive trajectory," said Gates, who is on his last official visit to Asia before retiring. Gates is due to address the forum today.
Gates's entreaty reflects a U.S. push for constancy in defense ties with leaders in Beijing that were severed multiple times in recent years, over issues such as U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. His positive tone belied tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and California-based Google Inc. (GOOG)'s discovery of an attempted cyber-attack that the company said appeared to originate in China.
U.S. diplomats are working on "balancing" rather than "containing" China, said Dana Allin, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy and transatlantic affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London.
"That's part of the diplomatic game that has to be played very skillfully," Allin said.
Both President Barack Obama and China's President Hu Jintao have pressed their militaries to strengthen defense relations.
The U.S. is trying to overcome obstacles and opposition to better ties with China on both sides by zeroing in on topics where they're more likely to make progress, U.S. defense officials said in briefing reporters after the Gates-Liang meeting. Gates cited areas of "common strategic interests" such as piracy, North Korea and disaster relief.
"I also believe that it's important to maintain a dialogue on areas where we disagree so we can have greater clarity about each other's intentions," Gates said.
Liang, in his opening remarks to Gates through an interpreter, said improving military ties was "important" for the leaders of both countries to address. He stressed that "new policies" might be required, without elaborating before reporters were sent out of the room.
High-Level China Presence
Liang's presence at the forum is notable as the first time China was represented at the same level of defense minister that other countries generally send to the 35-nation gathering. He's due to address the forum tomorrow.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak cautioned countries at the forum against trying to make a Cold War-style choice between China and the U.S. China's growing military capacity should not cause "undue alarm," Najib said yesterday.
"Despite rapid increases in Chinese military expenditure, the United States will continue to be by far the pre-eminent military power and by far the biggest spender," he said.
Najib advised treating China "in a very constructive, positive way," saying Chinese leaders would then be more likely to respond in kind.
Gates visited Beijing in January after the Chinese ended a freeze on military relations that followed a January 2010 announcement of U.S. arms sale to Taiwan and after American overtures to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
That visit was followed last month by talks in Washington led by U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Chinese counterpart, General Chen Bingde.
Yesterday's hour-long meeting was "productive," and "very cordial," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.
Gates sought to assure Liang that his nominated successor, Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta, would continue efforts to solidify more cooperation and communication, Morrell said.
Gates and Liang didn't discuss cyber issues specifically, U.S. defense officials said. Liang did refer to the importance of talks in Washington last month that brought civilian and military officials on both sides together to discuss issues such as cyberspace, a topic that China had suggested, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
Tensions also have escalated again in the South China Sea in recent weeks.
China claims most of the South China Sea as its own, dismissing rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia. Gates pointedly cited U.S. interests in the area at the same forum last year, followed a month later by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that settling claims was "a leading diplomatic priority" for the U.S.
Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Talisman Energy Inc. (TLM) and Forum Energy Plc (FEP) are all planning exploration activities in blocks with Chinese claims.
The Philippines filed a diplomatic protest after Chinese vessels were seen in an area claimed by both countries, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a forum in Manila earlier this week. Last week, Vietnam said Chinese ships cut survey cables of a boat operated by Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, or PetroVietnam.