The Pentagon says talks to be held later this month between the United States and Chinese military will be an opportunity to resume normal contact. The news does not come as a surprise to Asia policy experts who say it is in both countries' interests to have a stable and mutually constructive military-to-military relationship.
The Pentagon says it will be the first policy dialogue between the People's Liberation Army and the U.S. Defense Department under President Barack Obama. China ended all military exchanges and discussions during the Bush administration to protest the U.S. arms sale last October to Taiwan. China maintains that Taiwan is part of its territory.
"We take this as a positive signal that the Chinese are prepared to engage and begin working to resume a regular military-to-military exchange," said Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman. "We - the Secretary [of Defense Robert Gates] places - place a high priority on the U.S.-China mil-to-mil relationship."
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense David Sedney will lead the U.S. delegation to the talks, and will be joined by several State Department officials and military officers. Whitman says the United States and China have agreed that the talks will focus on Asia-Pacific regional challenges, global security and potential areas for expanding cooperation between the two militaries.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in Beijing on Friday as part of her first overseas trip since taking office last month. Previewing her trip last week in New York, Clinton emphasized the role of diplomacy in settling the China-Taiwan dispute.
"We look forward to further improved relations across the Taiwan straits," she said. "Even with our differences, the United States will remain committed to pursuing a positive relationship with China."
Security policy analyst Denny Roy of the University of Hawaii's East-West Center says that with an improvement in cross-strait relations, including resuming direct air, shipping and mail service, the Taiwan issue will be less likely to upset the Sino-American military relationship.
He says Secretary Clinton's visit provides an opportunity to show good faith and begin a fresh relationship with new leaders in Washington.
"The Chinese needed to let a decent interval pass between the breaking off of the mil-to-mil relationship late last year before starting it up again," Roy said. "And a few months have gone by now, enough for them to conclude that they've made the point and are ready to get on with business with the United States."
The U.S. Defense Department's annual report on China's military, required by Congress, is due to be released on March 1 - the day after the talks conclude. Analysts say the report will not likely please China, which, in the past, has accused the Pentagon of overstating the threat posed by its expanding military capabilities.