US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he held "very candid conversations" on nuclear weapons strategy Wednesday during a rare visit to the command centre of China's main nuclear force.
"There was a discussion of nuclear strategy and their overall approach to conflict," Gates told reporters after visiting the command centre of the People's Liberation Army's 2nd Artillery near Beijing.
"We talked about their no-first-use policy," he said. "We talked about command and control ... and several other subjects, so I felt like it was a pretty wide-ranging conversation, pretty open."
Gates said the commander of the 2nd Artillery, General Jing Zhiyuan, accepted an invitation to visit the headquarters of the US Strategic Command.
"I've had a really good week here in China, a few days, good meetings," Gates said on the final day of his three-day visit, which included talks with President Hu Jintao, Defence Minister Liang Guanglie and other Chinese leaders.
China had postponed his visit last year because of tensions over US arms sales to Taiwan, and a large part of Gates' visit was aimed at patching up ties.
"I think that the discussions were very productive and set the stage for taking the military-to-military relationship to the next level," he said as he toured the Great Wall near Beijing.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Guan Youfei said the visit to the 2nd Artillery was arranged at Gates' request.
"We believe exchanges with the US in all kinds of fields are beneficial," Guan told state media Tuesday. "They will add to our mutual trust and eliminate misunderstanding and miscalculations."
Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld also visited the command centre in 2005.
The 2nd Artillery showed off its latest military hardware in an October 2009 parade to mark the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule.
Among the hardware identified by China Central Television was a convoy of mobile launchers for the Dongfeng-31A, a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile reportedly capable of reaching a target up to 11,000 km away.
Senior Colonel Zhang Guangzhong, who led the 2nd Artillery's nuclear missile formation in the parade, said his troops had taken delivery in 2007 of new nuclear missiles with "quicker response, longer range and enhanced maneuverability".
During the 2009 parade, the official Xinhua news agency quoted army headquarters as praising nuclear missiles as its "trump card" and noted that Hu had reiterated China's "no-first-strike" policy.
The agency said the nuclear missiles "shoulder a divine mission of curbing the threat of war and safeguarding state sovereignty."