China proposes closer US military ties

China has proposed officer exchanges, new joint exercises and other measures to build trust between the world’s most powerful military and its largest, General Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Friday.

During a visit to China on Friday, Gen Pace said that Liang Guanglie, chief of the General Staff of the 2.3m-strong People’s Liberation Army, had offered a list of suggestions for confidence-building measures “which I was very pleased to hear”.

The move suggests growing willingness in Beijing to engage more widely with the US military, although Gen Pace’s trip does not appear to have made any significant progress in peeling back the cloak of secrecy that surrounds Chinese defence planning.

Gen Pace said his counterparts had not given any new information on the surprise test in January of an anti-satellite weapon, despite his citing it as an example of where greater transparency might prevent international “confusion” and suspicions.

Sino-US military ties have already recovered substantially since the deep freeze that followed the collision of a Chinese fighter jet and an American spy plane in April 2001.

In November, destroyers from the two countries’ navies held joint search and rescue exercises in the South China Sea, and there has been a series of high-level exchanges such as Gen Pace’s current visit, his first.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said that Gen Liang’s list included a proposal for Chinese and US officers to make exchange visits to service colleges such as West Point and allowing greater observation and participation in military exercises.

Gen Pace also backed the creation of a defence “hotline” between Beijing and Washington – something he said would be of particular value now that their senior military leaders had had a chance to get to know one another. Despite such US calls, however, Beijing has yet to agree to a hotline – even though China’s official Xinhua news agency last year predicted talks on the issue would “produce a result” before the end of 2006.

While China’s anti-satellite test has fuelled concerns among some in the US that the PLA is a growing military threat, Gen Pace was diplomatic in his comments on Friday.

He stressed that Beijing wanted in “good faith” to prevent conflict over Taiwan, the island over which China claims sovereignty, and that the Chinese military also wanted greater transparency.

Asked if he was worried about Beijing's military build-up, he said a country needed to have both “capacity and intent” to be considered a threat and that China did not have any intent to wage war on the US.

“The biggest fear I have for the future is misunderstanding and miscalculation based on misinformation,” Gen Pace said.

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