China, US officials discuss defence ties

U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel and China's Minister of National Defense General Chang.

The defence chiefs of China and the United States had their second meeting within 10 days on Wednesday on the sidelines of a regional defence ministers meeting in Brunei, a gesture observers said shows a growing momentum of frank interaction.

Beijing and Washington should maintain dialogue on multilateral occasions to "accumulate mutual trust and increase positive energy for ties between the two militaries", Defence Minister Chang Wanquan told his US counterpart Chuck Hagel.

The two posed together for pictures before a gala dinner for the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus in Bandar Seri Begawan on Wednesday night. Chang travelled to the US in mid-August and talked with the US Secretary of Defence at the Pentagon on Aug 19.

The two countries should "make tangible efforts to take care of each other's concerns", and strengthen positive interactions within the multilateral mechanisms of defence and security affairs, Chang said.

Hagel echoed Chang's proposals and stressed the importance of enhancing communication between the defence authorities and their senior officials.

Zhao Jingfang, a professor at the National Defence University PLA, said expanding the scope of dialogue and seeking more talks on multilateral occasions, such as the ASEAN defence minister's summit, are "beneficial for enhancing mutual trust".

"In the past, Sino-US military communications focused on bilateral mechanisms and meetings," Zhao said.

The importance of strengthening dialogue has also been underlined as the region has witnessed a growing number of US military joint drills in recent years as well as Washington rebalances its Asia strategy.

While in Washington, Chang expressed his hope the US strategy does not target a specific country. "To a certain degree, these kinds of intensified military activities further complicate the situation in the region," he said.

Meng Xiangqing, deputy director of the Strategic Research Institute at the National Defence University of the People's Liberation Army, said the meeting on Wednesday was the second step toward a new type of military-to-military relationship following the Pentagon talks on Aug 19.

"This matches President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Barack Obama's vision of a new type of relationship between the major powers. The frequent interactions between the two sides show the defence ties have entered a new era," Meng said.

The Brunei talk between the two defence chiefs will contribute to regional peace and stability and it is also a platform for them to have deeper discussions and avoid misunderstanding, Meng added.

During his first trip to the US after assuming office, Chang had a "candid and deep" talk with Hagel and exchanged views on a series of bilateral and international issues.

Hagel hailed Chang's US trip as "very productive" and accepted Chang's invitation to visit China next year. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also offered to host his Chinese counterpart, Fang Fenghui, next year.

Meanwhile, Chang announced the Chinese navy would join the RIM of the Pacific joint maritime exercise for the first time next year at the invitation of the US.

During the Pentagon meeting, the two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in non-traditional security fields, including humanitarian aid.

The Chinese defence minister elaborated more on the non-traditional security issue during the talk in Brunei.

China and the US should explore pragmatic cooperation in areas such as disaster relief, anti-terrorism and peacekeeping, and "they are expected to improve the region's capability of handling non-traditional security threats", Chang said.

The two powers have a record of cooperation in this field.

On Sunday, the navies of China and the United States conducted their second joint counter-piracy exercise in the Gulf of Aden. In September 2012, China and the US conducted their first joint anti-piracy drill, which lasted for five hours, also in the Gulf of Aden.