Gates’ China Trip Aims for Lasting Military-to-Military Relationship

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)

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