US, China to resume military contacts: Pentagon

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2010 (AFP) - The United States and China are to resume military contacts cut off since early 2010 with initial meetings planned for next month in Hawaii, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

Both sides had agreed in talks in Beijing that military maritime talks would be held from October 14-15 in Hawaii, followed by defense talks in Washington later in the year, spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said.

"Both sides agreed that dialogue is essential to build mutual trust and reduce the chances of misunderstanding and miscalculation," he added in a statement.

The announcement came after two days of talks in Beijing by Michael Schiffer, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, with Chinese military officials.

Kurt Campbell, the top US diplomat handling East Asia, said that restoring contact between the US and Chinese militaries would help in the goal of building greater trust between the Pacific powers.

"We want the resumption of a strong, robust and well-designed military-to-military relationship between our two countries. I think that has been missing and it's very important for it to move forward," Campbell told a forum.

Lapan said that US and Chinese officials agreed that military-to-military relations were "essential to developing a broad, resilient bilateral relationship that is positive in tone, cooperative in nature and comprehensive in scope."

Military ties between the two countries have repeatedly stalled, with Beijing calling off scheduled visits or exchanges as a way of protesting Washington's policies, particularly US arms sales to Taiwan.

China cut off the dialogue in January after the US administration unveiled plans to sell 6.4 billion dollars in weapons and military hardware to Taiwan, a self-ruling island which Beijing claims as a province.

Lapan added the United States had suggested the two sides seek to break "the 'on-again/off-again' cycle that has characterized the US-China military-to-military relationship to date."

US Defense Secretary Gates had planned to travel to Beijing as part of an Asian tour in June, but China rebuffed the Pentagon chief and called off the visit.

More recently, China has objected to US military exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, part of renewed cooperation between Washington and Seoul in the face of tensions with North Korea.

Campbell indicated that the United States would not back down on the right of the United States to deploy the nuclear-powered USS George Washington in future exercises, despite Chinese concerns.

"We have a very clear policy of operating in international waters. That is not aimed at any country," Campbell said, while declining comment on "operational matters."

China in January also said it would punish US firms involved in the arms sales to Taiwan, although US officials cast doubt on whether Beijing has carried out the threat.

Gates has criticized China for suspending ties over the US approach to Taiwan, saying a permanent dialogue was too important to be "held hostage" to Washington's weapons sales to Taiwan.

The sales have been going on for decades and Washington has made clear that it does not support independence for Taiwan, Gates said in a speech in June in Singapore.