By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
HANOI, Vietnam, Oct. 11, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that he has accepted an invitation from his Chinese counterpart to visit Beijing.
Gates told reporters traveling with him that Gen. Liang Guanglie issued the formal invitation during a bilateral meeting today, though the timing of the visit remains to be worked out.
The Chinese military suspended its military-to-military relationship with the United States earlier this year over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Gates called today's meeting a "good forward step" conducted in a friendly spirit, and added that he emphasized to Liang in today's meeting his long-held belief that the dialogue between the two militaries should be sustainable regardless of any ups and downs.
"I outlined to him why I believe it's important that, indeed, when there are disagreements, it's all the more important to talk with each other more, not less," Gates said, "and [noted] the need for strategic dialogue on everything from nuclear weapons and strategy to missile defense and outer space security, as well as areas in which we can cooperate."
The secretary added that he pointed out in the meeting that matters such as arms sales to Taiwan shouldn't disrupt the relationship between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, because they are political decisions that don't rest with the secretary of defense.
"If there is a discussion to be had," he said, "it is at the political level." And at that level, he noted, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao have publicly advocated a sustained and reliable military relationship between their countries.
"Having greater clarity and understanding of each other is essential to preventing mistrust, miscalculations and mistakes," the secretary said. "I believed it in the dialogue with the Soviet Union over 30 years, [and] I believe it's important with China as well."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said he couldn't put a timetable on when Gates would visit Beijing, but "our desire is to do this as soon as possible."
Gates and Liang are in the Vietnamese capital to attend the inaugural meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and eight other countries with a stake in the region.