USA/China — Gates: U.S.-China Military-to-Military Ties Need Work

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)