The Chinese military's chief of general staff says he will visit the U.S. next month amid renewed calls for an end to American arms sales to Taiwan.
Gen. Chen Bingde said he was invited by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a sign of strengthening ties between the two countries' armed forces following a freeze in such ties last year.
In announcing his visit to a U.S. congressional delegation on Tuesday, Chen said he looked forward to "in-depth and candid" discussions with American military and political leaders, and called U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its own territory, the biggest barrier to improving ties.
"Considering the global strategic situation, the state of China-U.S. relations and the historic changes in relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, it is hoped that the U.S. will look at the big picture and take measures to thoroughly remove this obstacle," Chen said in his remarks, posted on the Defense Ministry's website.
Chen's visit had been delayed due to Chinese anger over Washington's approval in January 2010 of a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan that led Beijing to suspend all military contacts for months. Relations appeared to get back on track with a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Beijing in January, followed soon after by a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington.
The U.S. hopes to use military exchanges to build trust and avoid friction, particularly in light of Beijing's booming military spending and growing naval presence in the western Pacific. China remains dubious, however, viewing military exchanges instead as a reflection of the overall state of relations to be put on hold during times of diplomatic tensions.