Suspended contacts between the US and Chinese militaries will resume later this month shortly after a visit by newly appointed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chinese state media reported on Monday.
US officials say China suspended most military dialogue with Washington after the Bush administration approved a $6.5 billion arms package to Taiwan last October that included guided missiles and attack helicopters.
Although Beijing never formally confirmed the suspension of military exchanges, the China Daily newspaper said contacts had been put on hold after the announced arms sale and would resume with a "defense policy dialogue" involving senior officers in Beijing on Feb. 27-28.
"The mainland and the US will resume their military talks with a defense policy dialogue in Beijing," China Daily said. It quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Hu Changming as saying the talks would be "informal," without saying specifically what that meant or what topics the meetings would encompass. The meetings could not immediately be confirmed by the US side. American Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said she had no information about them, and there was no announcement about the talks posted on either the Defense or State Department Web sites. The talks would come shortly after a visit to Beijing by Clinton, who arrives on Friday to hold discussions on a joint response to the global financial crisis and overall ties. Clinton's visit is being characterized by both sides as an effort to carry over the mainly positive tone set for relations during the second term of former US President George W. Bush.
Clinton, who departed from Washington on Sunday, will also visit Japan, Indonesia and South Korea.
Military exchanges between the sides have a bumpy history, frequently called off by China in response to conflicts between their governments; especially steps by Washington to boost ties Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing considers its own territory.
Exchanges were suspended for months after a 2001 collission between a Chinese jet fighter and US spy plane over the South China Sea. Beijing's secretive military has been wary of giving away too much information via such contacts, while critics in the US say Washington gains little from such talks while allowing China to grow stronger and more dangerous by obtaining information about American weapons and tactics. Others say dialogue is necessary to draw Beijing out of its defensive crouch and avoid misunderstandings.
China vows to eventually bring Taiwan under its control, but the US government is bound by law to ensure the island is able to respond to Chinese threats. President Barack Obama's top intelligence official suggested last Thursday that China's massive defense spending will spur continued US arms sales to Taiwan to maintain a military balance in the potentially dangerous Taiwan Strait.
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told lawmakers that China's double-digit annual percentage military spending increases _ last year's budget jumped 17.6 per cent to about $61 billion _ "pose a greater threat to Taiwan."