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US, China bid to bolster military ties

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 13, 2011
The US military will lay out the red carpet next week for China's military chief as Washington renews its effort to forge a defense dialogue with Beijing despite tensions and mutual distrust.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde starts a week-long visit Sunday to the United States, the first trip to America by the country's top-ranking officer in seven years, officials said.

Chen will tour four military bases, deliver a speech to American officers and hold talks with his US counterpart, Admiral Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a senior defense official said Friday.

"We've pulled out all the stops" for the visit, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

Military relations between the two economic powers have been strained and lagged behind diplomatic and trade ties, with Beijing objecting to US arms sales to Taiwan while Washington has voiced concern about China's military buildup.

Gates and other US officials have appealed to China to agree to a more reliable dialogue that could help defuse tensions and avoid potential misunderstandings, similar to ties that were built up between the Americans and the Soviets during the Cold War.

"What we're really looking for is a relationship that there's some mutual transparency and trust developed between us. So that if there is some incident or some disagreement, it's a relationship that we can depend on," the official said.

The Pentagon did not expect a breakthrough during Chen's visit but the official said Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, hoped to persuade Chen to agree to more regularly scheduled discussions.

"We will discuss options for more contact, with some established rhythm, periodic phone conversations, something like that," he said.

The last US visit by a senior leader from the PLA was in 2009, when General Xu Caihou came to Washington and toured military bases.

When the US defense secretary 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.

Chen was expected to offer his view of military relations at a speech on Wednesday at National Defense University after holding talks on Tuesday with Mullen and senior military staff in "the tank" meeting room at the Pentagon.

Over the course of the week, the Chinese general is due to get a first-hand look at US naval warships in Norfolk, Virginia, a "live fire" exercise at Fort Stewart army base in Georgia, fighter aircraft at Nellis Air Force in Nevada and the military's National Training Center in California.

Chen also plans to attend a concert Monday at Washington's Kennedy Center with bands from the US Army and the PLA performing. US officials said it will mark the first time a PLA band has ever played in the United States.

Chen's visit comes after the United States said Wednesday it wanted to set guidelines with Beijing on the use of space, voicing worries that the Asian power is increasingly able to destroy or jam satellites.

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