WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2011 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ official visit to China next week is designed to lay the foundation for a lasting military-to-military relationship between the two nations, a Defense Department official said here today.
The “on-again, off-again” relationship the United States has had with China is harmful and it is in both countries’ interests to develop better and enduring military-to-military relations, Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said at a National Press Club forum hosted by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
Gates is scheduled to leave Jan. 8 for his first official visit to China since 2007. Chinese officials suspended military relations with the United States early last year in protest of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
U.S. officials are optimistic that military-to-military relations with China can get back on track, Schiffer said, noting that representatives of both sides talked about moving forward during the Defense Consultative Talks held here in December. Also, he said, officials of China’s Peoples Liberation Army have been quoted in the Chinese media about the “dangers” of not having military ties with the United States.
In building a durable framework for lasting relations, Schiffer said, Gates and his Chinese counterpart must show their nations’ mutual respect and trust of each other, have reciprocity in areas such as military cooperation and trade, work for the countries’ mutual interests, work to reduce security risks in Asia, and continue to talk even when there are disagreements.
Gates’ goals for his meetings with Chinese officials include creating clear and open channels for dialogue and having greater transparency into each other’s militaries, Schiffer said.
“These need to be substantive engagements,” he said. “Not engagements for engagements’ sake.”
“We have an important opportunity here to recast military-to-military relations,” Schiffer added. “We believe these relations are too important to let them lag.”
Still, Schiffer said, Gates also plans to discuss specific military issues that could be contentious, including nuclear missile defense, space and cyber operations, and containing threats from North Korea.
“We’re not under any illusion” that U.S. and Chinese officials won’t continue to disagree on some topics, Schiffer said. But the countries need to get to a point where military-to-military relations can continue in spite of disagreements, he said.
“We have an extraordinary opportunity to define our relationship not by the obstacles between us, but by our common interests,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)