SHANGHAI, China – Chinese military observers said U.S. military exercises they observed this week gave them a better understanding of American weapons and tactics, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.
Delegation leader Rear Adm. Zhang Leiyu called the visit to the war games near Guam "a positive step in China-U.S. military ties," Xinhua said.
"The visit helped China obtain a better understanding of U.S. weapons, training, skills and exercise arrangements," Xinhua quoted Zhang, a navy vice chief of staff and commandant of China's Naval Submarine Academy, as saying.
Zhang's delegation was the first from China to officially observe U.S. maneuvers in the Pacific Ocean, where China and the U.S. face potential conflicts over Taiwan.
His assessment will likely cheer exchange advocates, who argue that Chinese exposure to advanced U.S. capabilities reduces the chances of misunderstandings or clashes.
However, the comments may arouse concern among exchange opponents. They say China gains valuable information about the U.S. military without giving away anything in return about their own 2.3 million-member armed forces -- the world's largest.
The two countries' militaries have had their share of friction in the past. They fought each other in the Korean War. In 1996, the U.S. Navy sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the Taiwan area amid Chinese war games aimed at intimidating the self-governing island, whose defense Washington is legally bound to assist.
This week's maneuvers were part of U.S. efforts to reinvigorate exchanges between the two militaries, who have had little interaction since a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea in 2001.
Dubbed "Valiant Shield," the exercises brought three carriers together in the Pacific for the first time since the Vietnam War. Some 30 ships, 280 aircraft and 22,000 troops participated in the five-day war games, which ended Thursday.
Guam is about halfway between Hawaii and Japan.
U.S. officers who hosted the delegation aboard the carrier USS Ronald Reagan said the Chinese showed intense interest in all aspects of the ship's operations and were given a thorough introduction to its capabilities.
Adm. William J. Fallon, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific who invited the Chinese delegation, said before the exercises began that he expected China to reciprocate.
However, Zhang and the Xinhua report gave no indication whether such an invitation was forthcoming.
Later Thursday, Xinhua said China is "open" to military exchanges with the United States, and that it is willing to promote bilateral defense and security cooperation, citing remarks by Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan.
Tang made the remarks following a meeting with a delegation of the American Foreign Policy Council, a nonprofit organization. The delegation was led by Richard Myers, a former chairman of the U.S. armed forces' Joint Chiefs of Staff, Xinhua said.