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U.S. Defense Chief to Meet His Chinese Counterpart as Relations Thaw

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will meet his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie next week on the sidelines of an ASEAN conference in Hanoi as the United States and China move to end an eight-month freeze on military exchanges.

Gates is reportedly planning to travel to China early next year.

“I think we are efforting to put together a meeting of that sort when Secretary Gates and his Chinese counterpart are attending the ASEAN-plus ministerial in Hanoi early next week,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters.

Gates is flying to Hanoi on Saturday to participate in the inaugural ASEAN Defense Ministers plus eight meeting, a gathering of the defense ministers of the ASEAN nations, as well as their partners, including Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States.

It is the first time that that defense leaders from the regions will formally come together and establish a regional security dialogue.

“A more regular exchange of views will help build trust and transparency in the region, which will be important as nations there continue to develop new, more advanced military capabilities,” Morrell said.

With regards to U.S.-China relations, China had suspended such contacts in January in protest over the US$6.4 billion arms package that Washington sold to Taiwan. This led to Beijing refusing to invite Gates to visit during his previous trip to the region in June.
The Associated Press reports that China signaled an end to the freeze last week when the Defense Ministry’s head of foreign affairs, Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, told visiting U.S. Assistant Deputy Defense Secretary Michael Schiffer that regular dialogue and exchanges on military safety at sea and other issues would be resumed.
“What’s been asked of us now is the Chinese have expressed to us a desire to host the secretary. They’ve asked us to look for opportunities in his calendar.

We’re doing that right now, looking forward to reporting back on some possible dates. Our expectation is that we would be able to travel and engage with the Chinese as soon as possible,” Morrell said.

Beijing also agreed to hold a session of talks focused on naval issues in Hawaii in mid-October and a broader set of defense consultations in Washington later in the year.

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