U.S., China to Hold Annual Defense Talks Next Week in Beijing

U.S. and Chinese defense officials will meet in Beijing next week for annual talks three months after the Obama administration decided to sell weapons to Taiwan over China’s objections.

Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy will meet with General Ma Xiaotian, the deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff on Dec. 7 for the 12th defense consultative talks, said Navy Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

“These talks represent the highest-level bilateral dialogue between our two defense establishments,” Hull-Ryde said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Discussions will aim to “expand areas where we can cooperate and discuss mutual expectations.”

The U.S. in September said it would sell $5.3 billion in upgrades to Taiwan’s fighter jet fleet instead of agreeing to a request to sell new Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighters. The step meets the government’s legal obligations to sell arms to Taiwan while attempting to avoid fraying ties with China that were damaged by a weapons sale two years ago.

President Barack Obama has begun increasing the U.S. defense presence in Asia as he begins to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month he signed an agreement to deploy Marines in Australia in a move aimed to blunt China’s rising regional influence.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province after two million Nationalists fled the communist takeover in 1949. The island across the Taiwan Strait should be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary, according to China’s policy.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-Jeou, who is running for re-election in January, has improved ties with China during his term by signing trade deals and boosting cross-Strait tourism.