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. China, US agree to resume key military exchanges

David Sedney, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense - Pool photo

US general named to Asia security post at Pentagon
President Barack Obama has named a retired US Marine general with years of experience in Asia to a Pentagon post focusing on security in the region, the White House said on Thursday. Lieutenant General Wallace "Chip" Gregson was nominated for assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs in the Defense Department, the administration said in a statement. Gregson served as commander of Marine Corps Forces Pacific and Marine Corps Forces Central Command, and led the Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Bases Japan as well as the 3rd Marine Division in Japan. During former president Bill Clinton's administration, Gregson was director of Asia-Pacific policy in the defense secretary's office from 1998 to 2000. Obama also announced plans to name Jim Miller, a former defense official during Clinton's tenure, as principal undersecretary for policy. Miller had served as deputy assistant secretary for requirements, plans and counter-proliferation policy from 1997 to 2000.

Japan FM in China for talks on economic crisis, NKorea
Japan's foreign minister arrived in China Saturday for a two-day visit that will see the two sides discuss the economic crisis and North Korea, amid a flare-up in tensions over a territorial dispute. Hirofumi Nakasone was due to raise the issues with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi shortly after his arrival in Beijing, a Japanese foreign ministry official said in Tokyo. "The two ministers are to explain how to cope with the crisis in each country," said the official, who declined to be named. "During discussions on the region, the North Korean issue will (also) be on the agenda." The world's second and third biggest economies are grappling with the global slowdown, with Japan posting a record fall in industrial output in January and China recently announcing that 20 million rural migrants were out of work.

On the diplomatic front, Japan and China are both part of a six-nation forum aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear programmes, but negotiations have repeatedly stalled. Pyongyang has also stated its intention to launch a satellite soon, a move that Japan and the United States believe could actually be a long-range missile test for a weapon with the potential to hit Alaska. China, one of North Korea's closest allies and the host of the six-party talks, has made little comment on the subject, which has dominated regional security concerns in recent weeks. Another issue that Nakasone, who is scheduled to meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday, will discuss while in China is a long-running territorial dispute between the two powers over energy-rich waters in the East China Sea. "We are... arranging discussions on the issues of the Senkaku islands and gas fields in the East China Sea," the Japanese official said. The archipelago, known in China as the Diaoyu islands, has long been a bone of contention between the neighbours, both of whom claim rights to lucrative undersea gas fields in the area.

Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso on Thursday fuelled the row over the issue when he said Tokyo would ask the United States to help it defend the disputed island chain. China reacted angrily, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying Beijing had lodged "stern representations" with Japan over the comments. On potential issues of cooperation, the Japanese official said Nakasone and Yang could agree to enter negotiations for the conclusion of a treaty for bilateral cooperation in the criminal and judicial fields. Part of the treaty would be aimed at enabling Chinese citizens imprisoned in Japan to serve their prison terms in China, and vice versa, Japanese media reported. Nakasone was due to meet Yang late on Saturday afternoon.

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 28, 2009
China and the United States agreed to resume high-level military exchanges during talks here that a senior US defence official described Saturday as his best ever.

The two-day defence contacts that ended Saturday were the first between the world powers in five months after China suspended military exchanges over a proposed US arms package to Taiwan -- a sensitive issue in Sino-US relations.

"We agreed we are going to be having high-level exchanges very soon," US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence David Sedney told reporters.

Sedney, who has been involved in such dialogue for 18 years, hailed the talks as extremely positive.

"These were the best set of talks that I have ever been a part of... between the US and Chinese defence establishments," he said.

The head of China's delegation, Qian Lihua, had warned on Friday that the resumption of talks was no guarantee that broader military exchanges would go ahead.

Qian said the onus was on the United States to ease tensions between the two sides, and specified the planned 6.5-billion-dollar US arms sale to Taiwan as an obstacle.

"China-US military relations remain in a difficult period. We expect the US side to take concrete measures for the resumption and development of our military ties," Qian said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

But Sedney said that during the talks, both sides had agreed to the need for regular exchanges.

"A very important part of it was that as we've had... I'll call it a pause in some of the talks we've had, that's helped bring home to both of us how important it is to have continuous, regular dialogue," he said.

The official indicated talks on maritime issues was one area for future top-level exchanges, but gave few other details.

Sedney also suggested the planned US arms sale to Taiwan, which includes advanced weaponry such as 30 Apache attack helicopters and 330 Patriot missiles, could still go ahead.

"I don't think there has been any change in that," he said in response to a question on whether the United States would pursue with the deal.

Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since they split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, but Beijing sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Both sides have stationed vast weaponry on either shore of the Taiwan Strait.

The United States has regularly sold arms to Taiwan in the past in what it says is a bid to preserve stability across the strait, but the moves have always angered China.

Sedney said he had discussed the issue with Chinese officials, who had emphasised its importance.

The talks also touched on the worsening situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- both neighbours of China -- as well as security in Northeast Asia, which includes North Korea.

But Sedney would not be drawn on whether they had discussed Pyongyang's intention to launch a satellite -- a move the United States believes could be a long-range missile test for a weapon with the potential to hit Alaska.

China, one of North Korea's closest allies, has made little comment on the subject, which has dominated regional security concerns in recent weeks.

Sino-US military relations remain marked by deep tensions over other issues aside from Taiwan.

Mistrust has grown as China has poured money into modernising its armed forces in recent years, fuelling US concerns that it plans to project its power more boldly in the region.

The talks are taking place just days before China unveils its military budget for 2009, likely announcing yet another large increase in defence spending.

The United States and its allies have repeatedly accused China of not being transparent with its military spending -- an issue that Sedney said had also been broached during the talks.

earlier related report
China warns US on Taiwan as military talks resume
China told the United States Friday US arms sales to Taiwan remained a major obstacle to easing military tensions, as the world powers resumed defence contact here after a five-month suspension.

The start of the talks had raised hopes of greater cooperation on security issues and an easing of enduring tensions, after China cut military exchanges in anger over the proposed 6.5-billion-dollar US arms package to Taiwan.

China's offer to once again hold the annual talks was widely seen as an olive branch extended to the new administration of US President Barack Obama.

But the head of the Chinese delegation signalled a tough approach in his opening remarks, emphasising that there were problems between the two sides and it was up to the United States to fix them.

"China-US military relations remain in a difficult period. We expect the US side to take concrete measures for the resumption and development of our military ties," Qian Lihua, co-chair of the talks and defence ministry press director, said in comments quoted by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Qian emphasised that the two days of talks in Beijing did not mean that the suspended military exchanges -- such as more senior-level contacts and disaster relief co-ordination -- would automatically resume.

"Frankly speaking, it will take a long time to restore our military exchanges as not a single obstacle in military ties has been removed so far," he said, specifically mentioning arms sales to Taiwan.

The situation of Taiwan, a democratically-ruled island claimed by China, has long been one of the most sensitive issues in Sino-US relations.

The planned US arms package that derailed military exchanges could still go ahead, and if it is carried out, Taiwan would receive advanced weaponry including 30 Apache attack helicopters and 330 Patriot missiles.

The Pentagon has also proposed selling Taiwan 30 AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopters and 1,000 Hellfire missiles to beef up its anti-armour capabilities, and for close air support of its ground forces.

The helicopters are worth up to 2.5 billion dollars, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

Taiwan and the mainland have been governed separately since they split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, but Beijing sees the island as part of its territory that is awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Both sides have stationed vast weaponry on their own side of the Taiwan Strait in the event of war between them.

Qian's comments appeared to douse hopes that Taiwan would be less of an obstacle to Sino-US ties now that the island is ruled by a relatively China-friendly president less likely than his predecessor to push for independence.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence David Sedney, who headed the US delegation, told Qian he was looking to deepen dialogue between the two sides, according to Xinhua.

"We must increase communications to reduce the chance of strategic misunderstanding," Xinhua quoted Sedney as saying.

Sino-US military relations remain marked by deep tensions over other issues aside from Taiwan.

Mistrust has grown as China has poured money into modernising its armed forces in recent years, fuelling concerns in the United States that it plans to project its power more boldly in the region.

The talks are taking place just days before China unveils its military budget for 2009, likely announcing yet another large increase in defence spending.

The United States and its allies have repeatedly accused China of not being transparent with its military spending.

Aside from Xinhua, there was no foreign media access to the talks. But US officials were to hold a press round table on Saturday.

Sedney will also meet with Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese army, before leaving for South Korea Saturday, Xinhua said.

The talks, which began in 1997, were last held in February 2008.

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