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General's visit raises stakes for nations

The extended visit starting Saturday by General Xu Caihou, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China, to the United States is a highly anticipated move meant to elevate a once turbulent relationship between the Chinese and US military forces to a higher level.

"Xu's visit is a very important step to reduce any suspicion," said Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor to presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, at the China-US Relations Conference in Beijing yesterday.

The general's visit, through Nov 3, is a critical step since there are at least 40 instances of communication or contact between the US and Chinese militaries each year.

The two countries, though disrupted by the US' moves on Taiwan in recent years, has gained momentum in the right direction very recently, said Qian Lihua, director of the Defense Ministry's Foreign Affairs Office.

He points to interactions involving the two countries' military forces, with high-ranking military officials paying visits to each respective country as well as training programs designed for both Chinese and US army personnel.

There are also signs of improved relations, especially after natural disasters. When Hurricane Katrina shattered New Orleans in 2005, the Chinese military tried to send government aid to victims as soon as possible. When South China was struck by snowstorm and Sichuan was hit by earthquake in 2008, the US army did the same.

However, the two countries have different military issues and deal with them distinctly. That has left the level of cooperation between the nations' military forces at an unsatisfactorily low level, Qian said.

"Dialogue is the key to solve this problem," Qian said.

And General Xu has recommended that the two countries respect each other's key interests.

Qian points to Taiwan, for example, as China's core interest. Handling of Taiwan questions has left the bilateral exchange shifting like a roller coaster.

The US has maintained sales of weapons to Taiwan even after China and the US established diplomatic relations in 1979. Each weapon sale between the Chinese island and the US stifles the China-US military relationship. China stopped its military contact with the US because of a $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan in October 2008. The US arm sales to Taiwan leaves relations between the two countries unstable.

The general also asked the US to attach due importance to the joint communiqu China and the US signed on Aug 17, 1982. The two countries agreed to stop selling arms to Taiwan step by step by a compromise. But the US has failed to honor its words.

Scowcroft admitted that Taiwan is "a very special issue since the very beginning."

During a July conference in Washington called the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, US President Barack Obama said that "we can update international institutions so that growing economies like China play a greater role that matches their greater responsibility."

But the US Department of Defense did not agree. It released the US National Intelligence Strategy on Sept 17, citing China as one of its primary threats.

He called the two countries to open frank dialogues to better understand international security issues. The Obama administration has adjusted US diplomacy to a perspective that listens to the concerns of nations.

 

 


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