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Flournoy Concludes ‘Constructive’ Round of U.S.-China Talks

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2009 – The Pentagon’s top policy official praised this week’s round of talks with Chinese defense officials that centered on developing military relations between the United States and China.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for Policy, said the two-day discussions in Beijing focused on a range of items including North Korea and counter-piracy.

“It’s been a very constructive two days of talks, and we agreed that engaging in continuous dialogue on strategic issues will lead to a much more sustained and cooperative relationship between the United States and China over time,” she said.

Flournoy acknowledged the challenges in U.S.-China defense ties, but emphasized that the United States does not view China as an adversary and that, despite differences, there are substantial issues on which the two can cooperate.

“Occasionally we will have our differences or areas of competition, but I think these talks focused on areas of common interest where we can work cooperatively to achieve shared objectives,” she said.

Policy officials at the Pentagon said the round of talks, the first in the Obama Administration, sought to re-balance defense ties between the two countries and place the military-to-military relationship on a sound footing.

The meeting sought to establish a new framework for U.S.-China military-to-military relations, in keeping with commitments President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao made at the G-20 Summit in April to further develop and improve the military relationship, Flournoy said.

“Along these lines, we discussed a very wide range of topics in a frank and open environment, and we hope to build on the common interests that we identified to move our defense relationship forward.”

Flournoy further stated that the nations agreed to a series of senior military-to-military activities and visits over the summer and into the fall of 2009, and began the process of assessing the relationship going forward.

“We agreed to continue our dialogue on a host of strategic issues, and we discussed the importance of openness and transparency in our defense relationship,” she said.

One issue that will be further fleshed out next month concerns maritime incidents between the two countries. Flournoy said that the two sides have a diplomatic mechanism to handle such issues -- the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement, created in 1998 -- and to improve maritime safety between the United States and China.

“I think there’s a strong desire on both sides to reduce the number of incidents as much as possible, and when they do occur to resolve them as carefully as possible,” she said. “Again, I think meeting … under the umbrella of the agreement will allow us to get into some of the practical details of how to do that.”

On North Korea, Flournoy said both countries share a concern about Pyongyang’s “provocative actions,” including its recent missile tests and nuclear test. “I think both would like to see North Korea return to a path of denuclearization,” she added.

She emphasized that the United States is committed to working in concert with international partners on enforcing a United Nations resolution allowing permissive searches of North Korean vessels suspected of transporting weapons or related materiel. “Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the resolution and to trying to resolve this issue peacefully,” she said.

Flournoy said American officials participating in the meetings briefed China’s military on the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy that Obama’s administration made public in March.

“We walked them through the different elements of our strategy, and then we talked about areas where we are already cooperating and we might cooperate further.”

Flournoy highlighted China’s decision to deploy assets in support of the international community’s effort to stem piracy emanating from Somalia.

“We discussed counter-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia,” she said. “We thanked China for its contributions in that area.”

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Michele Flournoy

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