SINGAPORE, June 3, 2011 — U.S. and Chinese defense leaders are pleased with the progress the countries are making in re-establishing good military-to-military relations.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie held bilateral talks during the Shangri-La Dialogue here today, the first time the Chinese defense minister has participated in the annual Asia security conference sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Gates and Liang continued discussions that began in January when the secretary visited Beijing. The Chinese suspended contacts with the U.S. military in 2009 in retaliation for the United States providing defensive weapons to Taiwan.
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao call military-to-military contacts between the two nations “an underdeveloped” part of the broader relationship between the United States and China.
“In recent months, our two countries have made some progress toward rectifying this imbalance by jointly identifying areas of cooperation,” Gates said at the start of the Shangri-La meeting.
Gates, who will retire as defense secretary at the end of the month, said he believes the U.S.-Chinese military relationship is now on a more positive trajectory. “Going forward, the U.S. and China must do more to work together on issues where we have common strategic interest — piracy, disaster relief and North Korea,” he added.
The secretary said the two countries agree in many areas, but that it is especially important that leaders continue to work together in areas where there is disagreement. This will allow leaders of both nations to have greater clarity on each other’s intentions, he said.
“Together, we can show the world the benefits that arise when great nations collaborate on matters of shared interest,” Gates said.
The meeting was productive and cordial, said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.
“It focused on moving forward with the agenda that they set forth during the secretary’s visit in January,” he said. “I think overall the meeting focused more on areas of agreement rather than disagreement. Of course, areas of disagreement were raised, but they were sort of acknowledged and moved on from. Far more time was spent on things that collectively need to be done moving forward.”
Liang recognized the efforts Gates has made to advance the military-to-military relationship, Morrell said.
“He noted at least a couple of times that the Chinese side appreciated Secretary Gates’ efforts, … and [that] without his personal efforts, the progress that has been achieved over the past year would not have been possible,” Morrell said. “The secretary thanked General Liang and said in retirement he hopes to monitor the forward progress with a fishing line in hand.”
The Chinese did raise issues they are concerned with, including arms sales to Taiwan, a “hyping” of the Chinese military threat and reconnaissance operations off China’s coast, said a senior defense official speaking on background.
Liang did bring up the Strategic Security Dialogue put in place following the January meetings, the official said, adding that U.S. officials were encouraged that the Chinese see this as a beneficial forum for discussion. Officials discussed cyber and maritime issues in the first meeting of the dialogue last month, and officials hope future meetings will discuss nuclear missile defense and space, the official added.
“There seemed to be agreement today that it would be worthwhile to dedicate more time to forthcoming discussions,” a senior U.S. defense official said.
The meeting with Liang capped a full day of bilateral meetings for the secretary. Gates also met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamed Najib bin Abdul Razak, Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)