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China-US defense talks 'best in decade'
By Cui Xiaohuo and Peng Kuang (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-03-02 07:55

The first defense talks between Beijing and Washington after Barack Obama took office were the "best" in more than a decade, a senior US defense official said in Beijing during the weekend.

"These were the best set of talks that I have ever been a part of ... between the US and Chinese defense establishments," David Sedney, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs, said on Saturday. He has been involved in China-US military dialogues since 1997.

"Both sides were more frank and more direct," Sedney said while briefing reporters at the US embassy after a total of 15 hours of talks with mainland military officials and scholars in Beijing on Friday and Saturday.

Sedney, who co-chaired the Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT) with Major-General Qian Lihua, director of the foreign affairs office of the Defense Ministry, also said both sides have agreed on scheduling high-level military exchanges soon.

The DPCT meeting is seen as laying the groundwork for the more formal Defense Consultative Talks attended by the two nations' deputy defense ministers, which were last held almost one-and-half years ago in Washington, military officials said.

"We certainly agreed we are going to be having high-level exchanges very soon," Sedney said, adding meetings will be held today for scheduling the talks.

The closed-door DPCT was also the first in five months after the mainland called off almost all bilateral military exchanges in October last year in response to the Bush administration's $6.5 billion proposed arms deal to Taiwan, the biggest military package offered to the island since 1982.

During the talks over the weekend, the US representatives were again urged to stop arms sales to Taiwan and push for peaceful ties across the Taiwan Straits with practical measures.

But Sedney said the US stance on Taiwan would not change.

"The positions (on Taiwan) haven't really been changes," said Sedney, adding the two sides have discussed the issue in detail.

"The ... Taiwan (question) is the core central issue for the Chinese. They made it very clear and effectively, and we understand that."

The US has regularly sold arms to Taiwan for what it says will preserve stability across the Straits, but the moves have consistently angered the mainland.

"The theme of this Beijing meeting is that the mainland makes sure the US understands its core interest issues, including Taiwan, while the US lists areas where the two parties can cooperate in," Major-General Luo Yuan, a senior expert with the Academy of Military Science, told China Daily.