Liang, Gates to talk military ties at ASEAN security conference
BEIJING - Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie will meet with United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates next week for the first time since military ties were severed at the beginning of this year, a senior official announced on Wednesday.
The pair will talk in Vietnam during a regional security meeting of defense chiefs from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and eight other invited countries on Oct 12, Guan Youfei, deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense's Foreign Affairs Office, told a press briefing.
"Liang is scheduled to meet Gates on the sidelines of the conference," he said.
China cut military ties in protest after the US unveiled a $6.4-billion arms sale to Taiwan. US officials have since been pressing for a resumption of relations.
More recently, Chinese leaders objected to US military exercises with the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the Yellow Sea, as well as US attempts to intervene in the South China Sea issue between China and some Southeast Asian countries.
"It takes mutual respect and concern for each other's core interests to keep a healthy military relationship," said Guan, who added that China is willing to discuss the current problems.
Rear Admiral Yang Yi, former head of strategic studies at the People's Liberation Army's National Defense University, said he believes the meeting between Liang and Gates signals that bilateral military ties are coming back on track, yet many difficulties remain.
"With many new security problems in the area, the meeting can help dispel misunderstandings and decrease the chances of friction," he said. "Enhancing trust and eliminating unstableness is necessary and urgent to all the countries."
The forthcoming defense ministers' meeting in Vietnam's capital Hanoi is the first security session of all 10 ASEAN members and eight other countries - China, Australia, India, Japan, the ROK, New Zealand, Russia and the US.
Guan said parties will not touch on the South China Sea issue at the conference as "it's not on the agenda".
"China holds a consistent stance: That the South China Sea issue is not an issue between China and the ASEAN, nor can the issue be discussed under the framework of the ASEAN plus 8," he said. "We are prepared to respond and our stance is not going to change."
Liang will reiterate China's national defense policy and its position on regional security at the meeting, as well as hold bilateral talks with defense chiefs from Australia, the ROK, Indonesia and Laos, said Guan.
Liang will also meet Vietnamese leaders and the nation's defense chief, who will host the conference.
"China is going to work together with other parties toward a practical and positive outcome in Hanoi," said Guan. "Further military cooperation with ASEAN members serves the fundamental interests of both China and the ASEAN."
Zhu Feng, a professor at Peking University's school of international studies, said he sees the meeting as a new opportunity for dialogue on security cooperation.
"Former security dialogues, including the ASEAN Regional Forum and Asia Security Conference, are forums for discussion among scholars and officials and do not hold any practical sway," said Zhu. "All countries wish to break such limitations and build new cooperation platforms."
The meeting would also be an important channel for China to clarify its defense policy and security ideas to reduce misunderstandings, he added.
A draft declaration to be passed at the conference regards the meeting as a major component of the regional security framework, stating that challenges to security are getting complicated and out of any one country's range, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.
The Japanese defense chief, who will attend the Hanoi meeting, is also seeking talks with Liang on the sidelines to discuss recent frictions between the two countries over the Diaoyu Islands, according to Kyodo reports.
The meeting of defense officials from ASEAN member states and eight other countries will be held every three years.
Yang Jing contributed to this story.
(China Daily 10/07/2010 page1)