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China military not out to challenge US: PLA general

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 18, 2011
A top Chinese general said Wednesday his country was ready to bolster military ties with the United States but warned that Washington's arms sales to Taiwan remained a stumbling block.

In a week-long visit to the United States, People's Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde struck a mostly conciliatory tone, saying his country had no plans to take on the US military in the Pacific.

"I can tell you China does not have the capability to challenge the United States," Chen told a joint news conference with his US counterpart, Admiral Mike Mullen.

In the first trip to the United States by a PLA chief of staff in seven years, US officials hoped the visit will help pave the way for better defense ties that have been repeatedly cut off by Beijing.

"We share a broad consensus on some major issues. Certainly we also disagree on some other issues," Chen said through an interpreter.

Chen acknowledged that the main source of friction was over Taiwan.

When asked by a reporter if US weapons sales to Taiwan would affect military ties between the two economic powers, Chen said: "My answer is affirmative. It will."

"As to how bad the impact will be, it will depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan," he said.

The general said the arms sales amounted to US meddling in the "domestic" affairs of another country, an approach that he described as "hegemonic."

In a speech earlier, he made a pointed reference to Abraham Lincoln, president during the 1861-1865 US civil war, for "defending American sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Chen said that in his talks with US lawmakers, some members of Congress agreed that it was time to repeal legislation that calls for arms sales to Taiwan.

China suspended defense ties last year with the United States after Washington announced more than $6 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan. Beijing considers Taiwan -- where the mainland's defeated nationalists fled in 1949 -- to be a territory awaiting reunification

For his part, Mullen said there were no plans to halt the arms sales as they were mandated by US law.

"As long as that law remains in effect, certainly we will follow it," he said.

The two countries' views were "not always aligned" but more contacts between officers in both armies would help avoid misunderstandings, Mullen said.

The military chiefs, in a statement issued a day after talks held on Tuesday, said they had agreed to communicate through a US-China telephone hotline and to hold joint counter-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden.

The two officers also pledged to hold more military exchanges.

"It has always been my view that we can't afford to wait until we are in a crisis before we start to understand each other," Mullen said.

Chen, in his speech at National Defense University in Washington, sought to reassure an audience of American officers about China's military buildup amid concerns that Beijing is seeking to roll back American influence in the Pacific.

"The world does not need to worry about, let alone fear, China's growth," he said.

China "never intends to challenge the US" and welcomes its role in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

While China's military had improved markedly in recent years, it still lags far behind the United States, Chen said.

The general said there was still "a 20-year gap" between China's military and western powers, and bemoaned the vast difference in equipment and training between the Chinese and US navies.

Chen said he had extended an invitation to his counterpart, Admiral Mullen, to pay a similar visit to China.

When US Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid a high-profile visit to Beijing in January, the Chinese military upstaged Gates with an inaugural test flight of the country's J-20 stealth fighter.

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