The armed forces of China and the U.S. edged towards closer mutual understanding in 2006 with a growing number of military exchanges.
The bilateral military exchanges were highlighted by senior Chinese military officer Guo Boxiong's visit to the United States.
Guo, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission (CMC), paid a week-long visit in July at the invitation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was the highest-ranking Chinese military officer to visit the United States since 2001.
Guo ranks second to Chairman Hu Jintao in the 11-member CMC, China's top military authority.
China-U.S. military ties were broken off in 2001 when a Chinese fighter aircraft was damaged by a U.S. surveillance plane over the South China Sea.
Guo's visit came when China-U.S. military relations were "at their best since 2001", said Qian Lihua, deputy director of Foreign Affairs Office of China's Defense Ministry.
Guo's visit implemented the consensus reached by Chinese President Hu Jintao and his U.S. President George W. Bush on increasing exchanges and cooperation between the two armed forces during Hu's visit to the United States in April.
Qian said Guo's visit was "the most important Chinese military exchange with another country this year".
During his stay in Washington, Guo and U.S. officials agreed to enhance mutual understanding and further cooperation.
The two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on the international and regional security situations, the relationships between the two countries and two armies as well as other issues of mutual concern.
They agreed to begin joint naval maritime search and rescue exercises this year, promote exchanges between military academies and young officers and expand cooperation.
They agreed the development of bilateral and military ties was in the interests of the two peoples, and was conducive to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region as well as the whole world.
Analysts said Guo's visit helped promote China-U.S. strategic trust on traditional security, and expand cooperation in non-traditional security fields.
Senior U.S. military officers also visited China in 2006.
William Fallon, Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, came in May and August. He invited a Chinese delegation to observe a U.S. military exercise in Guam in June, the first invitation of its kind extended by the United States.
Deputy Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense Christopher Ryan Henry visited China in September, and Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Fleet Gary Roughead visited in December.
A mechanism for officer exchanges between the two armed forces was also set up and military institutions have regular exchange programs.
The defense departments of the two countries restored a series of consultation mechanisms on maritime security, humanitarian disaster relief and military environmental protection.
In June, a U.S. delegation, headed by Assistant Defense Secretary Peter Rodman, came to Beijing for the eighth annual round of defense consultations.
Also in June, the flagship of U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet "Blue Ridge" paid its fourth visit to Shanghai, highlighting warming exchanges between the two navies.
A breakthrough in China-U.S. military ties was the first China-U.S. search-and-rescue exercise this year.
The first phase of the exercise, held in September, consisted of the two navies conducting communications, fleet formation changes and search-and-rescue exercises in waters off Hawaii.
The navies held the second phase in the South China Sea in November.
The purpose of the exercise was for the vessels to jointly locate and salvage a ship in danger.
The exercises involved guided missile destroyers and aircraft.
"The exercise symbolizes more substantial cooperation between the armed forces of China and the United States, which is very important to the future development of military relations," said Qian Lihua.
China has conducted search-and-rescue exercises with Britain, France, Pakistan, India, Australia and Thailand. This year's exercise was the first ever held between China and the United States.
"The search-and-rescue exercise is an important and substantial exchange activity between the two armed forces," Qian said. "It has been of vital importance to expanding the Sino-U.S. military cooperation, despite its limited scale in terms of troops and vessels."
The two sides were "satisfied" with both the quantity and the quality of the activities, Qian said.
Fallon said the cooperation between U.S. and Chinese armed forces achieved positive progress this year. He hoped the two militaries would further expand spheres and means of cooperation.
(Xinhua News Agency December 28, 2006)