BEIJING, Jan. 11, 2011 — The Chinese are taking an American proposal to hold a strategic dialogue between the two countries seriously, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates met with President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the people and with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi today. The meetings followed yesterday’s discussions with Chinese national defense officials.
Gates held a press roundtable, where he told reporters that China and the United States should engage in a strategic dialogue focusing on four areas: nuclear, missile defense, space, and cyber.
The dialogue, Gates said, would help cement military-to-military relations between the two countries, and it could also help to bridge a possible communications gap between Chinese civilian leaders and military personnel.
There was a demonstration of such a gap during Gates’ meeting with President Hu. The Chinese today performed the first flight test of their new J‑20 stealth fighter in Chengu.
“When Secretary Gates raised the issue of the J‑20 test in the meeting with President Hu, it was clear that none of the [Chinese] civilians in the room had been informed [of the test],” said a senior U.S. defense official speaking on background.
In the secretary’s view, this omission underscores the need for the sort of joint civilian-military strategic security issues dialogue that he has proposed, the official said.
There is great merit in bringing the civilian side and the military side together to discuss these issues, because “it is hard to compartmentalize many of these security issues into either purely military or purely civilian,” Gates said.
The secretary also said that President Hu made it clear that Chinese officials will take the American proposal seriously.
“We promised to get back to them and work with them on this,” Gates said. “Our hope is that we can get such a mechanism started before the strategic and economic dialogue next meets in about five months.”
Gates said, overall, that he has had a positive visit in China. He praised the hospitality of the Chinese, and said all of the conversations have been very cordial and friendly.
“I think it sets the stage for making further constructive progress in the military-to-military relationship,” he said.
But this will take time. “I think this is an arena where we have to play the long game,” the secretary said. “This is not an area where I think you will see dramatic breakthroughs and big headlines, but rather the evolutionary growth of relationships and activities together that over time have a positive effect on the overall relationship.”
There won’t be big breakthroughs in the military-to-military relationship, he said, but incremental progress.
“I think there is a desire to move forward,” Gates said. “Clearly the relationship was interrupted that has been made evident all along the way, by the arms sales to Taiwan. But it is equally clear to me that the Chinese –- including the [Peoples’ Liberation Army] –- are prepared to move forward” toward an expanded agenda of cooperative activities.
The secretary was clear that the strategic dialogue would not be in the form of arms control talks with China. “This would be more in the terms of trying to help each other understand what our long-term intentions, policies, and strategies are, and frankly, what would the specific agenda look like,” he said.
Gates said he came to China seeking a continuing military-to-military relationship that isn’t turned on and off due to political winds. The Chinese agree with him on this point, he said.
The secretary said that the quarterly or yearly contacts under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, the Defense Consultative Talks and the Defense Policy Coordination Talks will continue no matter what the political climate is.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)