Gates: Chinese Taking Strategic Dialogue Proposal Seriously

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)

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