SINGAPORE, June 3, 2010 — The military-to-military aspect of U.S. relations with China has lagged behind progress in other areas and falls short of what the leaders of both countries have said they want, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Shortly before arriving in Singapore to attend the “Shangri-La Dialogue” Asia security conference, Gates told reporters traveling with him that he had hoped to visit China while he was in the region, but that Chinese officials said it isn’t a good time.
He said he’d heard rumors for weeks that the potential visit wasn’t going to happen, but that he’d waited for formal word from the Chinese during the recent security and economic dialogue before the trip was removed from plans for his itinerary.
“I did not want to take a step that made it look like I was cancelling the visit,” he said, “and so I waited until we got something more official from the Chinese side.”
Gates said he believes a more-open dialogue with the Chinese about military modernization programs and about the two nations’ strategic views of the world would be constructive.
“We have had such a dialogue with Russia for over 30 years,” he said, “and I think it helps to prevent miscalculations and misunderstandings and creates opportunities for cooperation. So I’m disappointed that the [People’s Liberation Army] leadership has not seen the same potential benefits from this kind of a military-to-military relationship as their own leadership and the United States seem to think would be of benefit. So we’ll just wait and see.”
Asked whether he believes China is trying to make a point about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Gates pointed out that those arms sales have been going on for 30 years and were part of the process toward normalization of relations between the two countries.
“Central to our ability to go forward with normalization in 1979,” he said, “was the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act, which mandated that the United States maintain the defenses of Taiwan, and we have sold weapons to Taiwan ever since.
“This is not new news to the Chinese,” he continued. “And the sales under the Bush administration and under the Obama administration in both cases were carefully calibrated to keep them on the defensive side. So it depends on whether the Chinese want to make a big deal of it or not, but the reality is these arms sales go back to the beginning of the relationship, and were one of the conditions that came through the Congress as part of the normalization process.”
Gates said the arms sales have not inhibited development of the political and economic relationships between the United States and China.
“If they want to single out the military side of the relationship as the place where they want to play this out, then so be it,” the secretary said. “But it has not impeded the development of the relationship in other areas.”
Gates noted that President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have advocated a “sustainable and reliable” relationship between their nations’ militaries.
“I think they mean a relationship that doesn’t move in fits and starts and isn’t affected by every change in the political weather,” he said, “and that’s where I would like to see this relationship go.”
The secretary said he believes the People’s Liberation Army could do more to advance its military-to-military relationship with the United States.
“I would just express it as my opinion that the PLA is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership in the country,” he said
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)