NEW YORK - The top US military official in the Pacific said he is hopeful that this year will be a good one for Sino-US relations, particularly in the military field.
Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the US Pacific Command, said he hopes bilateral military dialogue will be elevated and that the two militaries will find opportunities to work together.
"I am often asked what the biggest challenge is for the Pacific Command. Frequently I answered that it is the challenge of getting the relationship between the US and China and the US military and Chinese military right," Willard told reporters at the New York Foreign Press Center on Monday.
He said one of the most important things that the United States could do is work with Chinese military officials to promote security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
"That's the goal for the United States and that's the goal for the United States' military in the Asia-Pacific," said Willard, who took up his current position 18 months ago.
Willard made the comment after last week's announcement by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) that Chen Bingde, chief of the PLA general staff, will visit the US in May.
China ended bilateral military-to-military exchanges early last year following the US announcement of a $6-billion arms sale to Taiwan.
Military relations were later resumed with a round of talks between lower ranking officials, followed by meetings on maritime safety and protocol, Willard said. Trying to avoid incidents on the sea and in the air when the two militaries are operating in close proximity has been a concern for both countries.
Willard called the renewed engagement a welcome first step. That was followed by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to China in January before President Hu Jintao paid a state visit to the US in the same month.
"There have been overtures made on both sides regarding areas of common interest between the US military and China's military, where we can find opportunities for both dialogue and exchanges." And there have been offers of more strategic discussions by Gates to his Chinese counterpart on strategic nuclear and cyberspace issues "that the Chinese are considering", Willard said.
He stressed that the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region is important not only to nations in the region, but to the US and the world because trade in the maritime domain each year stands at $5.6 trillion.
Willard did not answer a question asked by China Daily about whether US plans to escalate its military presence in Australia are in a response to China's growing presence in the region.
James Baker, former US secretary of state, believes that the vast common interests between China and the US would prevent the two countries from coming into conflict.
"The two largest economies in the world happen to be major trading partners to each other. Economic cooperation tends to dampen any chance of conflict," Baker said at a recent meeting of the Asia Society in Houston.
Baker dismissed recent claims that clashes between China and the US are inevitable.
"These observers are wrong. They are not just wrong, they are dangerously wrong," said Baker, who has visited China frequently over the past 34 years.
But he cautioned that China and the US have to manage their differences because they will not go away. Both must restrain their rhetoric and keep communications open.
"We must make compromises to allow us to meet halfway. Sometimes we simply must agree to disagree," he said.
"The future is rich enough to give both of our countries the full range of our opportunities and our dreams. But if we slip into confrontation or conflict, both sides will suffer. Make no mistake about it, the world will suffer with us," Baker said.
(China Daily 04/13/2011 page11)