The US has restated its commitment both to playing a role in the Asia-Pacific and to further exchanges with China, despite “political winds” that threaten to jeopardize ties, a senior US military official said Sunday.
“Now, more than ever, the US is a Pacific nation. It is clear that our military interests and economic well-being are tied to Asia,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, said during a speech at the Renmin University of China in Beijing at the start of a four-day visit.
Seeing military relations between the world’s two biggest economies as vital, Mullen called on China to play a “greater role” in maintaining regional peace and said that greater military power brings with it the need for greater responsibility and transparency.
“The US wants a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship with China,” Mullen said.
The US is not threatened by China’s rise, and on the contrary, it will stand to benefit from the prospects of a stronger China just like other countries, he added.
Mullen arrived in Beijing on Saturday at the invitation of Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), mirroring Chen’s trip to the US in May, a further sign that Sino-US military relations have improved of late.
Chen’s visit to Washington represented the highest military contacts since ties were severed in early 2010 after a $6.4-billion US arms sale to Taiwan.
Mullen will hold talks with Chen today after a welcoming ceremony, according to China’s Ministry of National Defense. He will also meet other high-ranking officials, including Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.
Mullen will meet with various branches of the Chinese military apparatus, including the air force, army and navy as well as the Second Artillery Force. His tour will take him to Shandong and Zhejiang provinces.
Responding to a question about US arms sales to Taiwan, Mullen affirmed that Washington is firm in its support for the one-China policy, but that arms sales to Taiwan are permitted by US laws.
“Our one-China policy certainly is not going to change,” Mullen said, noting that the US always tries to “achieve the right balance” in dealing with the Taiwan question.
Tensions have mounted in recent months as the Philippines and Vietnam have rejected China’s sovereignty claims over the Nansha Islands and Xisha Islands in the South China Sea.
The US has pledged its support to the Philippines over the South China Sea, which holds rich oil and gas deposits.
China and the US broached the issue in Hawaii in June, and the topic will likely dominate the agenda at an upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers meeting in Indonesia, Reuters reported.
Referring to a series of military drills between the US and various ASEAN states, Mullen stated that the US would not abandon the region and that “the intent of the military exercises is to broaden and deepen our interests and relationships here.”
Shi Yinhong, director of the US Study Center at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times Sunday that despite improving military relations, the peaceful overtures of senior officials did not mask the fact that the US and China still hold opposite stances on some crucial issues.
“Mullen has repeated that China should be responsible for regional issues during his trip, which could be seen as blaming China for its role in the region,” Shi said, adding that China’s responsibilities are not to be determined by Washington.
“Contradictions over arms sales to Taiwan will neither disappear nor be solved overnight. But the recovering relations between the two sides will prevent disputes from further escalating,” Shi said.
Tao Wenzhao, a researcher at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the improvements in the relationship dated back to President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the US at the beginning of the year.
Zhu Shanshan contributed to this story.