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China Praises Renewed Military Ties With U.S., But Distrust Remains

China's President Hu Jintao (right) greets U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Beijing.

China's President Hu Jintao (right) greets U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Beijing.

The United and China are trying to defuse military tensions during U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to Beijing.

The U.S. administration has made stronger military contacts one of the gains it hopes to win from Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington next week.

Gates' trip comes a year after military ties were suspended over Washington's approval of a multibillion-dollar arms package for Taiwan -- the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing.

Meeting the Pentagon chief today, the Chinese president told Gates that his visit would "help strengthen understanding and mutual trust" between the sides.

Hu also said Gates' long-delayed visit showed the "high importance the two countries attached to the development of military-to-military relations."

On January 10, Gates and his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, announced that a series of working groups would be set up to discuss how to work together on issues such as counterterrorism, antipiracy efforts, and disaster relief.

But the sides stopped short of endorsing a U.S. proposal to focus on nuclear, missile defense, space and cyberweaponry, agreeing only to study the idea.

The two agreed that stronger military ties were needed to avoid missteps between the two states.

"We are in strong agreement that in order to reduce the chances of miscommunication, misunderstanding, or miscalculation, it is important that our military-to-military ties are solid, consistent, and not subject to shifting political winds," Gates said at a joint news conference.

Distrust Remains

At the news conference, Liang's comments showed that Beijing's distrust remains deep.

"China holds a consistent and clear stance regarding U.S. arms sales to Taiwan: we are strongly against it," Liang said. "U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have jeopardized China's core interests, and we are not willing to see it happen again."

In an editorial today, the official "China Daily" newspaper listed the persistent sources of tension as U.S. naval surveillance along China's coasts, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and the United States' "growing penchant for projecting its military power in the Asia Pacific."

China has complained about joint military exercises hosted by South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

Washington, concerned about the rapid modernization and upgrading of China's People's Liberation Army, has also supported Southeast Asian concerns at China's re-stated claim to the South China Sea.

New Stealth Fighter

In the latest reflection of China's growing military might, a prototype of China's first known stealth fighter plane made a test flight today, according to reports and photographs published on Chinese websites.

Gates quoted Hu as telling him that the maiden test-flight of the advanced J-20 fighter-jet prototype was not timed to coincide with his visit.

In his first trip to China since 2007, Gates -- a former CIA director -- was scheduled on January 12 to visit the command center for China's nuclear and missile arsenal.

Gates will head to Japan later on January 12 and South Korea on January 14 for meetings focused on the Korean crisis.

Korea 'A Direct Threat'

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to press his Chinese counterpart next week to exert more pressure on North Korea, which has alarmed the region by shelling a South Korean island and revealing advances in its nuclear program.

Gates today said North Korea was becoming a direct threat to the United States and could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile within five years.

The Pentagon chief also said it was time for Pyongyang to demonstrate specific ways it is ready to reengage with its neighbors.

Beijing is North Korea's only major diplomatic and economic backer.

compiled from agency reports