BEIJING China's Defence Ministry said on Thursday it was considering a U.S. invitation to attend military drills in the Pacific, in what would be a rare case of cooperation between the countries that share deep military suspicions.
Asked to confirm if U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, recently in Beijing, had invited China to attend the U.S.-hosted multi-nation Rimpac maritime exercises, Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said that was the case.
"The Chinese side thanks the U.S. side for the invite, and will give it positive consideration," he told a monthly news briefing, according to a transcript posted on the ministry's website. Foreign reporters are not allowed to attend.
This year's Rimpac involved more than 22 nations, including Russia, Japan and India, in waters off Hawaii, but China was not invited. The next one is scheduled for 2014.
China and the United States, the world's two largest economies, have had an on-again, off-again defence relationship in recent years.
Two years ago China severed all military ties over U.S. arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan. Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up, whereas Chinese officials have accused Washington of viewing their country in suspicious, "Cold War" terms.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged China in September to expand military relations with the United States to reduce the risk of confrontation.
This week, Chinese and U.S. officers are holding a disaster management exercise in China's southwestern city of Chengdu.
However, China's military modernisation continues apace. It has territorial disputes with Japan and various Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)