U.S., China defense officials meet despite tensions

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 07, 2011 12:43 AM
U.S., China defense officials meet despite tensions

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese and U.S. defense officials met on Wednesday for their highest-level talks since Washington's arms sales to Taiwan in September, state news agency Xinhua said, a sign the countries are trying to keep relations on an even keel despite tensions.

The annual round of consultations was led by Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army General Staff, and Michele Flournoy, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, Xinhua said.

"The fact that the consultations took place as scheduled shows that both countries are being sincere about maintaining military exchanges," Xinhua quoted Ma as saying. "Hopefully, both sides will make the best of this opportunity to expand common ground, keep risks under control and avoid misjudgment."

The arms deal for Taiwan is one of several irritants. In September, Beijing stepped up condemnation of Washington for the

deal, saying it could disrupt military exchanges.

U.S. President Barack Obama's diplomatic "pivot" into the Asia-Pacific region prompted speculation in Beijing that the move was part of a broader policy to encircle China.

China's military denounced the United States and Australia last week for upgrading military ties, warning the move could erode trust and fan Cold War-era antagonism.

Recent talk of a possible defense pact between India, Australia and the United States also could fuel China's worries.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has made clear, however, that he wants to avoid reopening the rifts that dented ties with Washington earlier this year. Hu retires late next year, when the United States is focused on its presidential race, making China's leaders especially reluctant to risk diplomatic rows.

Xinhua said the two sides were expected to discuss bilateral military relations, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and the situations on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea, where Beijing's assertiveness has sparked fears among Southeast Asian neighbors and rival claimants to parts of the sea.

China opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan on grounds they sabotage plans for reunification with the island. Washington wants Beijing and Taiwan to determine their future peacefully and says it is obliged by law to help the island defend itself.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, editing by Brian Rhoads and Ron Popeski)