The commander of US forces in the Pacific said on Tuesday that military ties with China are lagging behind the two countries' other dealings in maturity and sophistication. Admiral Robert Willard told People's Liberation Army deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, that it was regretful that military ties were so far behind the "other very mature engagements that occur between our two countries."
Willard made the comment during the first high-level military talks between the sides since Beijing suspended military exchanges earlier this year in anger over US arms sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island China claims as its own territory. Ma voiced his own frustration, saying Chinese plans for military exchanges with the United States in 2010 had been "seriously disrupted" by the Obama administration's announcement in January. Washington said Jan. 30 that it would go ahead with a sale of $6.4 billion in military hardware to Taiwan - including helicopters, missiles and other weapons.
Willard is in Beijing as part of a second round of strategic talks, termed the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, that began last year in Washington. The gathering brings together dozens of Cabinet officials from both sides, the chiefs of both central banks and military officers.
"It has been a great pleasure to attend the Strategic Economic Dialogue. I've been struck by the maturity and sophistication in the level of exchange between the United States in China in a wide variety of areas," Willard told Ma. "Regretfully, the military to military relationship, we think, lags far behind these other very mature engagements that occur between our two countries." Reporters were ushered out of the room shortly after Willard's comments and the US Embassy in Beijing was not immediately able to confirm what else was discussed.
China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to claim the island as part of its territory and has threatened to invade if Taiwan moves to make its de facto independence permanent.