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Pentagon in China talks

Washington, Dec. 8 (Reuters): For the first time since President George W. Bush took office nearly two years ago, the Pentagon will tomorrow hold formal, senior-level talks with the Chinese military, aiming for more cooperation in fighting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

In an attempt to gain more from military-to-military ties than it believed the US derived in the past, the Bush administration will also ask the Chinese to explain the intent of their continuing offensive missile buildup opposite Taiwan, Pentagon officials said.

The Chinese military “is a critical component of the overall Chinese security establishment... so we would say to them you have an obligation... to exercise your influence to make these things happen,” a senior Pentagon official said in an interview.

He stressed that Washington would try to capitalise in the meeting on areas where the US and China have common interests rather than stir up trouble over differences.

Some administration officials, including at the Pentagon, are deeply sceptical of China’s intentions as it modernises its military, benefits from continued economic growth and rises in influence in Asia and elsewhere.

Tomorrow’s meeting will involve teams headed by Douglas Feith, US undersecretary of defence for policy, and Chinese General Xiong Guangkai, deputy chief of the PLA general staff.

Xiong, in Washington for two days, is also expected to meet other administration officials.

Sino-American ties improved substantially after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, as Beijing provided cooperation in the US war on terrorism.

The administration cut off a four-year-old senior-level dialogue with the People’s Liberation Army after a damaged American EP-3 surveillance plane landed on Hainan Island in April 2001 following a collision with a Chinese fighter jet in international air space off the Chinese coast.

Beijing held the US air crew for 11 days in a confrontation that strained relations early in Bush’s term.

Since then, the two countries have had dozens of military-to-military contacts — at conferences, in exchange visits — but Washington allowed this only on a case-by-case basis and then under restrictive limits.

“We have had this EP-3 incident, which is behind us. Now we want to see if both sides are prepared to get on with it and... demonstrate reasonable continuity and some regularity and predictability in a mil-to-mil relationship at a reasonably senior level,” said the Pentagon official.

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