China-U.S. Ties Recovering in ‘Good Atmosphere,’ Yang Says

China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi
Yang Jiechi, China's foreign minister. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

China’s relations with the U.S. are being carried out in a “good atmosphere,” recovering after a year in which tensions damaged ties between the world’s biggest economies, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, in line to become China’s next head of state, will make a trip to the U.S. after his counterpart Joseph Biden visits China this summer, Yang told reporters at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People today.

Relations between the two countries soured early last year after the U.S. announced a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, President Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama at the White House, and the U.S. criticized China over its restrictions on the Internet. Chinese President Hu Jintao met Obama in Washington in January, where the two leaders agreed to “work together to build a cooperative partnership.”

“The presidents of the two countries have chartered the course for the future development of China-US relations,” Yang said. “What we need to do now is to seize the momentum and build on the progress.”

China last week announced plans to increase defense spending 12.7 percent this year to 601.2 billion yuan ($91.5 billion). The improved military capabilities of the country with the world’s biggest army have heightened concern in the U.S. and the region over its goals.

Carrier Killer

Vice Admiral David “Jack” Dorsett, the head of U.S. Navy intelligence, said Jan. 5 the Pentagon had underestimated the speed at which China has developed and fielded a ballistic missile that may be capable of hitting a maneuvering U.S. aircraft carrier. A Chinese fighter that may have radar-evading stealth capabilities flew a test flight in January during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Tensions rose last year after the U.S. announced in January the plan to sell missiles, helicopters and ships to Taiwan. China broke off bilateral military-to-military talks until late last year ahead of Gates’ visit to Beijing and Hu’s state visit to the U.S. in January.

“It is an objective reality that China and the United States have some differences or even frictions over some issues,” Yang said. “What’s important is to properly handle these differences on the basis of mutual respect. We firmly oppose the U.S.’s arms sales to Taiwan.”

Taiwan Ties

The U.S. is committed to arming Taiwan by law, while China regards the island as an inviolable part of its territory, to be reunited by force if necessary.

China’s defense spending, the world’s second biggest, is still a fraction of U.S. outlays. The Pentagon is requesting $671 billion for fiscal 2012, starting Oct. 1, $37 billion less than this year’s request. U.S. analysts say China’s actual defense spending is much higher, because the announced figures may not include international arms purchases and other expenses.

Military ties also suffered after armed confrontation on the Korean peninsula. U.S. officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have pushed China to rein in its ally after two attacks killed 50 South Koreans and the North unveiled a nuclear enrichment facility. A month after China’s top foreign policy official State Councilor Dai Bingguo met Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, the North Korean regime on Jan. 8 sought unconditional talks.

North Korea

Tensions escalated last March after 46 South Korean sailors died in the sinking of the Cheonan warship, blamed on a North Korean torpedo. In November, the North shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.

China fought with North Korea in the 1950-1953 Korean War against U.S.-led forces. In October, Chinese General Guo Boxiong visited the North to mark the 60th anniversary of China’s entry into the conflict, noting the shared fight against “imperialist aggression.” Kim visited China twice last year, with a May trip to Beijing weeks after the sinking of the Cheonan.

China has refused to blame North Korea for the sinking, saying it hasn’t seen enough evidence. The North denies any involvement, claiming the U.S. and its allies fabricated the case to justify a “war of aggression.” North Korea also hasn’t apologized for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, saying it was retaliating for South Korean infringement of its waters.

The U.S. has resisted China’s calls to resume multinational talks including Russia, Japan and North and South Korea, saying leaders in Pyongyang shouldn’t be rewarded for provocations.

‘Even Harder’

“It is important for all the parties to work even harder for the resumption of six-party talks,” Yang said.

Yang said he “didn’t notice any signs of tension in the domestic situation in China,” responding to a question about heightened security and the physical assaults and detentions of foreign journalists.

In the past two weeks, China has deployed thousands of police to cities across the country, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, to head off online calls for rallies inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. A Bloomberg News reporter was repeatedly kicked in the face, torso and legs by plainclothes men on Feb. 27 in Beijing while reporting at one of the rally points.

“There is no such issue as Chinese police officers beating foreign journalists,” Yang said.

Yang said the world, including developed countries, should focus on China’s economic accomplishments, including more than three decades of economic growth averaging 10 percent a year and successfully navigating the global financial crisis, instead of looking for political divisions.

“The people ask themselves what is the secret of China in making all these accomplishments?” Yang said. “Maybe we can spend more time studying this.”

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