China defence chief seeks to soothe regional tensions
HANOI (Reuters) - China sought to smooth over regional tensions stoked by its rising military profile on Monday, when the country's defence minister held fence-mending talks with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts.
China's growing military reach and vehement reaction to maritime territory disputes have sparked renewed concern among its neighbours, from Japan to Australia.
Defence Minister Liang Guanglie invited U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates to visit China when the two met on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific defence summit in Hanoi, a step towards reviving bilateral military ties that Beijing suspended earlier this year over planned U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, a self-ruled island China considers sovereign territory.
"I agreed. We still have to work out the timing," Gates told reporters travelling with him.
Liang said a discussion with Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa had gone very well and would "of course be positive" for Tokyo-Beijing relations, which have been strained since early September by a row over disputed islands and are always sensitive to memories of Japan's brutal occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.
But Liang's gestures were carefully calibrated.
He met Kitazawa at a hotel coffee shop instead of a more formal setting, and said Japan should "properly handle sensitive issues in bilateral relations so as to put the relationship back on a normal track at an early date," according to China's Xinhua news agency.
Kitazawa was encouraged by the fact that a meeting took place at all, but suggested the air was not completely clear in the wake of Japan's detention for more than two weeks of the Chinese captain of a fishing trawler that collided with Japan Coast Guard boats in early September.
"There is still an atmosphere in China that is not completely positive about improving relations," Kitazawa said in remarks carried on Japanese NHK public TV. "I got the impression that a bit more time may be necessary."
Kitazawa had urged Liang to reconsider China's postponement of a Japanese naval training visit, which was supposed to take place on October 15, but Liang refused, Japan's Kyodo news reported.
Guan Youfei, deputy director of the external affairs office of China's Defence Ministry, said Liang stressed the importance of military-to-military ties with the United States, while reminding Gates that arms sales to Taiwan were still a thorn.
Beijing considers the island a part of China, but successive U.S. administrations have argued that they are bound by law to help Taiwan defend itself even though Washington officially supports Beijing's "one China" policy.
Liang said China would work with the United States "to facilitate gradual solutions to (outstanding) problems with a view to lifting the China-U.S. military-to-military relationship out of the current on-again, off-again cycle and enabling a track of sustained and steady development," Guan noted.
China has suspended military-to-military ties with the United States several times over the years in response to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
U.S. defence officials have expressed frustration with the stop-and-go nature of ties, and have urged China to engage in more consistent, transparent relations.
Throughout 2010, China-U.S. relations have been tested over arms sales to Taiwan, Internet policy, Tibet, China's currency and territorial claims. President Hu Jintao was planning to visit the United States next year and Guan said the trip would become "the top priority of bilateral relations in the near future."
Gates and Liang did not discuss the issue of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but in a speech earlier Gates indirectly challenged China's insistence on a bilateral approach to territorial disputes.
It was unclear if the issue would be raised directly at Tuesday's meeting, bringing together ministers or top officials from the 10 Association of South East Asian Nations and eight partners -- Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Editing by Nick Macfie)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this