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Gates Encouraged by Tenor of Meetings with Chinese

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BEIJING, Nov. 5, 2007 – A delegation of U.S. defense officials led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was impressed with and encouraged by their Chinese counterparts here today.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates shares a laugh with Chinese Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of staff, on his arrival in Beijing, China, Nov. 4, 2007. Defense Department photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
  

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The tenor of the talks was the most encouraging development, senior defense officials said on background. “What was most important was that we had good, substantive talks on broad strategic themes and also some real concrete accomplishments,” a senior official said.

The defense secretary had a busy day. The Chinese extended an official welcome to Gates at the Ba Yi Building, the headquarters of the Ministry of National Defense. Gates then met with the Minister of National Defense Cao Gangchuan. He left there to meet with Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo. Following that, he returned to the Ba Yi Building for a meeting with Gen. Xu Caihou, the new vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, and then with Gen. Guo Boxiong, the senior vice chairman of the commission.

“The overall tone and business-like effectiveness of the meetings were most important to us,” the senior defense official said. “I was surprised by how interactive it was, how forthcoming the Chinese interlocutors were. These tend to be pretty scripted and a little turgid, but not today.”

The meetings were an exchange of ideas and ways of thinking, officials said, adding that they were not meetings to twist arms or gain some advantage. No positions on either side were changed, but the quality of the discussions pointed to a new, more mature manner of exchanging military ideas.

The exchanges on Iran were a good measure of that, officials said. Both the United States and China oppose a nuclear-armed Iran. “(Both countries’) position on Iran is that they prefer negotiations to conflict; they prefer negotiations to sanctions; they prefer negotiations and discussions,” a senior U.S. official said. “They talked about why, and they talked about some of their analysis of the internal situation in Iran, and we had an exchange of views on that.”

The Defense Department team told the Chinese that the United States thinks China and the rest of the international community need to apply economic pressure to get Iran to move forward. While the Chinese delegation didn’t rule out economic sanctions on Iran, they didn’t rush to agree with them. Still, U.S. officials said the U.S. delegation could understand the Chinese line of thought and how they arrived at the position they did. It was a form of transparency that U.S. officials have wanted China to adopt.

China is trying to develop energy security for the country’s large and growing energy needs by dealing with Iran. “We pointed out to them that if Iran develops nuclear weapons it will destabilize the region and therefore destabilize your energy source,” a senior defense official said. “A nuclear-armed Iran is something that neither we nor the Chinese are prepared to accept.”

The parties made significant progress regarding a telephone link between the two countries’ defense establishments. The talks today built on recent technical discussions at lower levels, and when those talks finish, the link will be installed. The direct link is a very big deal in China, as the country has never had such a link with even their closest allies in the past. Officials on both sides said the link will go far in helping eliminating misunderstandings and miscalculations.

The talks also looked at nuclear issues. “We’re interested in having a better look at and understanding of their doctrine, their strategy, their force structure, how they see the use of nuclear forces, and also doing the same thing with them from our perspective,” an official said. “It would be a real dialogue.

“We’re not looking for all the details and secrets; we’re looking for things that will give greater strategic stability,” the official continued.

The next step is to get these talks on the agenda of the defense consultative talks that U.S. officials will have with the Chinese in the next month.

There also was progress on expanding bilateral exercises – especially naval exercises. In the past year, U.S. and Chinese ships held two combat search-and-rescue exercises, one off the coast of the United States and one off the coast of China. “We’ve agreed to do a more complicated naval exercise,” an official said. “We’ve agreed to step it up, but how complex it will be remains to be agreed.”

Officials expect the exercise will have more ships, helicopters and aircraft participating, but the scenario has not been scripted yet.

The Chinese discussed relations with Taiwan and told the Americans that they are concerned about Taiwanese activism toward independence. “There was not a lot new there,” the official said, “but we do understand their concern.”

Gates’ discussions continue tomorrow when he will travel to the Great Hall of the People and meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Officials said they hope more progress can be made on Iran. “We hope that on Iran we would get a stronger understand of the importance of using all tools of diplomacy -- not just discussions, but sanctions and pressure, because just talking hasn’t gotten us very far with Iran,” the official said.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Gates Travels in Asia
U.S. State Department country background note on China
Photo Essay: Gates Meets with Leaders in China
Photo Essay: Secretary Visits Forbidden City

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, right, meets with Chinese Executive Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, left, in Beijing, China, Nov. 5, 2007. Defense Department photo by Cherie A. Thurlby   
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