Saturday, 9 July 2011

US Military Chief On A 4 Day Visit To China

courtesy Reuters

The top U.S. military officer begins a four-day trip to China on Sunday in another sign of warming military ties between the two countries after a break in relations following a $6.3 billion U.S. arms deal with Taiwan.

"Admiral Mullen looks forward to continuing the engagement and dialogue that began during General Chen Bingde's visit to the United States in May," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan.

Mullen had a wide range of meetings scheduled with senior military officials, including visits to PLA military units, Lapan said. He also is scheduled to speak to students at Renmin University in Beijing.

Mullen's visit to China is the first by a chairman of the Joint Chiefs since his predecessor, General Peter Pace, went there in 2007. Mullen's last visit to China also was in 2007, when he Chief of Naval Operations.

U.S.-China military ties were severed in January 2010 after President Barack Obama's administration announced a $6.3 billion arms deal with Taiwan that included Patriot anti-missile systems and Apache attack helicopters.

Military links remained severed through much of the year, even as Mullen and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who resigned last week, called for regular contacts to improve trust and avoid misunderstands that could spin out of control.

U.S. officials have watched with concern as China has displayed a growing military assertiveness and begun developing weapons that could be used to undermine U.S. strengths in the region, from anti-satellite missiles to radar-evading jet fighters.

But the admiral's trip coincides with a joint naval exercise set for Saturday with the US, Japanese and Australian navies in the South China Sea, where China has asserted territorial claims.

US and Japanese officials said the exercise will include the Japanese destroyer Shimakaze, an American destroyer -- the USS Preble -- and a Royal Australian Navy patrol boat.

The ships will carry out communications training and other drills off Brunei, officials said.
The US Navy played down the exercise, with a spokeswoman calling it a small-scale, "low-level" activity on the sidelines of an international defense exhibition in Brunei.

China has objected to previous US naval drills in the South China Sea, and tensions in the strategic and resource-rich area have mounted in recent weeks.

The Philippines and Vietnam have expressed concern over what they call China's increasingly assertive stance in the area.

As tensions in the South China Sea have mounted, the pace of China-US military exchanges have also picked up, with the former US defense secretary Robert Gates meeting Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie in Singapore in early June, following a January visit by Gates to Beijing.

Gates warned last month that clashes could erupt in the South China Sea unless nations with conflicting territorial claims adopt a mechanism to settle their disputes peacefully