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Chinese military ‘not out to challenge the US’

A senior Chinese general has said his country was ready to bolster military ties with the United States but warned that Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan remained a stumbling block.


Chen Bingde, People's Liberation Army Chief of General Staff

In a week-long visit to the United States, Chen Bingde, People’s Liberation Army Chief of General Staff, struck a mostly conciliatory tone, saying his country had no plans to take on the US military in the Pacific.

“I can tell you China does not have the capability to challenge the United States,” Mr Chen told a joint news conference with his US counterpart, Admiral Mike Mullen.

In the first trip to the United States by a PLA chief of staff in seven years, US officials hoped the visit will help pave the way for better defence ties.

“We share a broad consensus on some major issues. Certainly we also disagree on some other issues,” he said through an interpreter.

Mr Chen acknowledged that the main source of friction was over Taiwan.

When asked by a reporter if US weapons sales to Taiwan would affect military ties between the two economic powers, he said: “My answer is affirmative. It will.”

“As to how bad the impact will be, it will depend on the nature of the weapons sold to Taiwan,” he said.

The general said the arms sales amounted to US meddling in the “domestic” affairs of another country, an approach that he described as “hegemonic.”

In a speech earlier, he made a pointed reference to Abraham Lincoln, president during the 1861-1865 US civil war, for “defending American sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Mr Chen said that in his talks with US politicians, some members of Congress agreed that it was time to repeal legislation that calls for arms sales to Taiwan.

China suspended defence ties last year with the United States after Washington announced more than $6 billion in weapons sales to Taiwan. Beijing considers Taiwan – where the mainland’s defeated nationalists fled in 1949 – to be a territory awaiting reunification

For his part, Admiral Mullen said there were no plans to halt the arms sales as they were mandated by US law.

“As long as that law remains in effect, certainly we will follow it,” he said.

The two countries’ views were “not always aligned” but more contacts between officers in both armies would help avoid misunderstandings, he said.

The military chiefs, in a statement issued a day after talks, said they had agreed to communicate through a US-China telephone hotline and to hold joint counter-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden.

The two officers also pledged to hold more military exchanges.

Mr Chen, in his speech at National Defense University in Washington, sought to reassure an audience of American officers about China’s military buildup amid concerns that Beijing is seeking to roll back American influence in the Pacific.

“The world does not need to worry about, let alone fear, China’s growth,” he said.

China “never intends to challenge the US” and welcomes its role in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

While China’s military had improved markedly in recent years, it still lags far behind the United States, he said.

Chen said he had extended an invitation to his counterpart, Admiral Mullen, to pay a similar visit to China.

When US Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid a high-profile visit to Beijing in January, the Chinese military upstaged Gates with an inaugural test flight of the country’s J-20 stealth fighter.

Filed in: World News

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