At the ASEAN Defense Ministers meeting in Hanoi, Chinese Minister of Defense Liang Guanglie invited his U.S. counterpart Defense Secretary Robert Gates to visit China, in what seems like an easing of military tensions in the region.
Diplomacy appears to be making some progress in reducing tensions at the ASEAN Plus Eight defense ministers' meeting. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations invited the United States, China, Japan, Russia and other regional powers to address security issues in the Pacific.
China resumes military relations
By inviting Defense Secretary Robert Gates to visit next year, China is resuming high-level military relations with the United States. Earlier in the year, China suspended military contacts because of U.S. planned arms sales to Taiwan.
The Chinese Defense Minister also said talks with Japan's defense officials were positive. Tensions between the two countries have increased after a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese coast guard patrol ships in waters claimed by both sides.
U.S. support for Southeast Asia
Earlier in the day, speaking to members of the military and students at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, Secretary Gates sent a message to reassure Southeast Asia.
"I think all Asia can be confident that the U.S. intends to remain engaged in Asia as we have been for so many scores of years before and that we intend to be an active party, not only in economic and political matters but also in defense and security matters," Gates said.
The United States is concerned territorial disputes over small island chains in the region could hurt access to one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
Beijing says its claims over the Spratly and Paracel islands are a "core national interest." Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia also claim all or part of the islands. Although largely uninhabited, the islands are believed to sit atop vast reserves of oil and natural gas.
Solution to sea disputes
The United States says it has a national interest in freedom of navigation in international waters. Mr. Gates said Asian sea disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiations.
The defense secretary also says by acting together in a multilateral organization like ASEAN, smaller Asian countries can better resolve regional security issues.
"Increasingly we find that relying exclusively on bilateral relationships is not enough," said Gates. "We need multi-lateral institutions in order to confront the most important security challenges in the region."
During his two-day visit, Gates will meet with several Asian defense ministers who want U.S. support to counter the growth of China as a regional power.