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Pentagon Rejects Chinese Call for 'Gestures' to Restore Relations

The U.S. Defense Department is rejecting Chinese government assertions that it must take unspecified steps to improve what the Beijing officials call a "stagnant" military relationship.

After the announcement in January of a $6 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, and President Barack Obama's brief meeting with the Dalai Lama in February, China suspended most military exchanges and announced that high-level visits would be postponed. The official China Daily newspaper quotes several officials Friday as saying the United States needs to make "real gestures" to return military relations to normal.

But later Friday, a Pentagon spokesman, Colonel Dave Lapan, rejected the Chinese assertion that after its own retaliatory actions, it is up to the United States to take steps to put the relationship back on track. "I would not agree that it's stagnant. We did take note of the Chinese reaction to the decision on Taiwan arms sales. But that has not stopped us from continuing to seek to continue [exchanges] and, as the secretary has talked about, to work through those types of things to enhance our contacts between the two militaries," he said.

The Chinese officials quoted in the China Daily take a different view, blaming the Pentagon for the arms sale and the downturn in relations. Arms sales decisions also involve the State Department and other agencies, and get final approval from the White House.

U.S.-China military relations have improved in recent years, but not smoothly. Various actions and incidents have slowed the development, and U.S. officials have called for more consistency.

China has been sharply increasing its defense spending in order to modernize its large but outdated military force. Its economic growth is enabling it to develop a modern military that analysts say could someday challenge U.S. military dominance in Asia. U.S. officials say regular dialogue and exchanges at all levels will decrease the likelihood of any potentially deadly misunderstanding or confrontation in the future.

And Colonel Lapan says the dialogue is continuing now, in spite of the Chinese suspension of many joint activities. "We continue to have dialogue at the appropriate levels with the Chinese about our military-to-military engagement. So we continue to discuss with them future plans for events, those types of things," he said.

Colonel Lapan says the United States still expects U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to visit China this year. But the China Daily indicates that that visit is included in the current freeze, and a senior Chinese official is quoted as saying the visit will not happen during the first half of the year, as had been expected. A top general is quoted as saying it is not clear how long what he calls "the ice age" in U.S.-China defense relations will last.