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Defense Official Aims for ‘Sustainable’ Ties in Beijing Visit

A U.S. Defense Department official is on a two-day visit to Beijing, aiming to revive ties with Chinese military leaders in a way that can avoid ruptures that have marred relations in the past, the Pentagon said.

Michael Schiffer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, began two days of talks in the Chinese capital today, said Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. The discussions precede a regional defense minister’s meeting next month in Hanoi, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Chinese counterpart are scheduled to attend.

Relations between the two militaries have been on hold since January, when the U.S. announced arms sales to Taiwan and China retaliated by restricting military-to-military cooperation.

The U.S. wants to restart the relationship and “put it on a footing that’s sustainable so that we don’t have these fits and starts,” Lapan said in an interview at the Pentagon today. “The Chinese have given signals that they’re willing” to resume higher level talks.

The Pentagon 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.

The U.S. is looking for “predictability and reliability,” Lapan said.

Contacts With China

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, met with General Xu Caihou, a vice chairman of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission. In May, Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the United States Pacific Command, met top military officials in Beijing as part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic dialogue.

A potential visit to China for Gates will probably come up during Schiffer’s talks, even though that’s not the main point, Lapan said.

Territorial disputes between China and its neighbors have drawn in the U.S., which has offered to help mediate over the objections of officials in Beijing. U.S. ally Japan saw relations with China fall to their worst in five years this month over the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain in disputed waters.

The Pentagon said in an annual report to Congress released last month that new weapons and the development of its first aircraft carrier give China an increasing ability to operate far afield. China also continues a military buildup opposite Taiwan even with improved economic ties across the strait.

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