China, US trade barbs over military ties

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Chinese and US military officers blamed each other for worsening military relations at a security meeting in Singapore that ended on Sunday.

"The barrier between China-US military relations is not set up by China," Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), said at a question-and-answer session of the 9th Asian Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue conference, on Saturday.

He listed some major obstacles to military relations, such as arms sales to Taiwan and frequent espionage activities by US ships and aircraft in the waters and airspace of China's exclusive economic zones.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates seemed unfazed, urging Beijing to accept the "reality" that Washington is committed to arming Taiwan, according to Reuters.

"It has been clear to everyone during the more than 30 years since normalization that interruptions in our military relationship with China will not change United States policy toward Taiwan," Gates told the conference.

China put military contacts on hold after the Barack Obama administration notified Congress in January of a plan to sell Taiwan up to $6.4 billion worth of arms.

Last week, the PLA turned down a proposed fence-mending visit by Gates during his trip to Asia.

Ma noted that military relations have been stuck in a strange circle - "development, standstill, another development, another standstill".

That is a "curse" that both sides failed to break, he said.

Ma said arms sales remain a "serious issue" bedeviling Sino-US relations over the past 30 years.

"The United States said that it does not support Taiwan independence. We hope the United States will translate words into action," he said.

Gates admitted "there is a real cost to any absence of military-to-military relations".

He said "sustained and reliable" contacts between the two militaries were needed to reduce the risk of "miscommunication, misunderstanding and miscalculation" that could lead inadvertently to conflict.

He held talks with top ministers from across Asia with the exception of the Chinese during the three-day conference because of the snubbed visit to China, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A senior member of the Chinese delegation, Major General Zhu Chenghu of the National Defense University, challenged Gates directly after his speech, saying China was not to blame for stalling military-to-military ties.

He said US arms sales to Taiwan ran counter to Beijing's "core interests" and sent the message that America saw the Chinese as "enemies".

"The Chinese are taking the Americans as a partner, as friends; and Americans take the Chinese as enemies," he said.

Gates chafed at the characterization: "I would just like to state for the record that the United States does not consider China as an enemy but as a partner in many areas."

After his speech, Gates shook hands with Ma, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Ma played down the extent to which Beijing has scaled back contacts with the US military, saying only high-level visits have been "temporarily suspended".

Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military analyst, said it was "irresponsible" of Gates to blame China for worsening military ties, noting the "more-than 100-page list" of arms it plans to sell to Taiwan.

Peng Guangqian, a Beijing-based strategist, said: "The US has not made any concrete moves to clarify its stance on the arms sales, and neither has it shown its sincerity (in improving relations). That's the reason Beijing doesn't want to thaw frozen military ties."

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