China, U.S. Turn to Maritime Agenda as Military Talks Resume

The U.S. and China will confer on maritime issues next month as the two countries resume military talks broken off after the Obama administration announced an arms sale to Taiwan earlier this year, a Pentagon spokesman said.

That discussion will be followed by full “defense consultative talks” in Washington later this year like those held last year in Beijing, Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan said. The June 2009 sessions marked the first in 1½ years after a previous China-imposed hiatus following a U.S. weapons sale to Taiwan.

The U.S. is seeking more stable and regular contacts to deal with issues such as China’s military buildup, territorial disputes and access to the seas that threaten to undermine regional stability.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Michael Schiffer agreed with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Affairs Office Director Major General Qian Lihua, in Beijing this week to revive discussions, Lapan said yesterday. The two sides aim to maintain “sustained and reliable” ties, he said.

“Both sides agreed that dialogue is essential to build mutual trust and reduce the chances of misunderstanding and miscalculation,” Lapan said in an e-mailed statement.

Military ties between the U.S. and China have faltered even as President Barack Obama seeks better relations on a range of issues including trade, climate change and defense. Obama is preparing to host Chinese President Hu Jintao for a state visit in Washington, possibly in January.

China restricted military ties after the administration notified Congress in January that it plans to sell Taiwan $6.4 billion of weapons including advanced Lockheed Martin Corp. Patriot missiles and United Technologies Corp. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

Gates Meeting

The decision to revive contacts comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates prepares for a meeting with Southeast Asian counterparts and Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, in Hanoi next month.

The two sides so far have agreed to discuss a “broad range of topics including ways to improve operational safety for sailors and airmen on both sides,” Lapan said. The maritime talks are set for Oct. 14-15 in Hawaii. No date has been set for the Washington meeting.

Defense Department officials have said they hope to achieve more consistency in military relations with China.

While yesterday’s statement said both sides affirmed that “consistent” military contact is “essential” to improved relations based on goals set out by Obama and Hu, the Pentagon didn’t indicate whether China agreed to stop the practice of suspending talks over disagreements.

“The U.S. side stressed the importance and mutual value of maintaining continuous dialogue,” Lapan said in the e-mailed statement. The U.S. “suggested that as the military relationship matures, the two sides develop it in a manner that breaks the on-again, off-again cycle that has characterized the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship to date.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Viola Gienger in Washington at vgienger@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva4@bloomberg.net

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