WASHINGTON – China and the United States have agreed to resume normal military contacts after a period of estrangement over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
The two nations will hold talks on maritime security in Hawaii in October, and China plans to send senior defense officials to Washington for meetings later this year, Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said. He predicted other routine exchanges would follow.
China froze military contacts with the United States earlier this year in protest of a proposed arms sale to Taiwan worth more than $6 billion. Beijing decided not to issue an invitation to Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a visit that had been tentatively planned for June, and Gates found himself in a sharp exchange with Chinese generals over the issue of Taiwan at an Asian security gathering in Singapore.
Chinese military officials agreed to resume some military contacts during a visit to Beijing this week by a senior Pentagon official responsible for Asia, Lapan said.
The maritime talks scheduled for Oct. 14 and 15 are a continuation of contacts begun in the late 1990s but subject to frequent interruption, usually at Chinese behest.
The talks "have unfortunately sort of followed the fits and starts that we have had in our relationship," Lapan said. They were last held in September 2009.
U.S. defense officials across Republican and Democratic administrations have argued that the military relationship between the United States and China has lagged behind improved ties in the economic and political spheres.
Gates in particular has argued that the two nations need ways to understand one another's goals and motives and avoid potentially deadly miscalculations.
Gates invited his Chinese military counterpart to Washington last year and had anticipated a return invitation in 2010.
Gates and other U.S. officials have said arms sales to Taiwan are not new and suggested that China used the sale as a pretext to chill contacts with the United States that some in the Chinese military ranks find uncomfortable.
The United States remains the most powerful military power in the Pacific, but China is increasingly challenging U.S. primacy as it vastly expands its military spending and ambitions. China's claim to control what the U.S. considers international waters in Asia is a regular point of friction.