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US Reassures China Over Increased Military Ties in Asia

A top American defense official says she sought to reassure her Chinese counterparts that U.S. moves to strengthen its military ties in Asia are not aimed at containing China.

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told reporters in Beijing, Thursday, she and Chinese military officials discussed a wide range of issues in their annual meeting.

"It provides us a forum to discuss common security challenges and to have frank exchanges about our differences," she said. "We had very candid discussions regarding the security situation in the Asia-Pacific region, the situation on the Korean peninsula, the Middle East and North Africa. We also discussed our continued work together in counter-piracy and humanitarian assistance, non-proliferation and transparency between our two countries."

Flournoy and Ma Xiaotian, the deputy chief of the People's Liberation Army's general staff, co-hosted the 12th round of U.S.-China Defense Consultative Talks in Beijing Wednesday. Flournoy says, although the two sides did not agree on everything that was discussed, both countries do support a common goal of preserving peace and stability in Asia.

The American official says the Chinese side asked her about Washington's recent announcement that it is strengthening its military alliance with Australia, a country she called "an incredibly steadfast ally."

"This really isn't about China. This is about Australia, and ensuring that we remain present in the region in a way that's really relevant to the kinds of, particularly, non-traditional challenges that we face," she said.

Some in China see the stepped up American military ties with Australia, as well as strengthened military ties with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, as signs of a new U.S. policy aimed at containing China.

Meanwhile, Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong says he thinks the fact that the two sides are having regular dialogue on military issues is a good thing - even if they still disagree on some things.

Shi says, in spite of very charged issues, there are other topics that still need to be discussed, such as how to ensure stability in the seas and how to communicate diplomatically. He says he expects the two countries cannot reveal all of the progress made, even if it is substantial.

The Sino-American military talks went ahead despite tensions about a nearly $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan, in September. China considers the island part of Chinese territory and reacted angrily. Flournoy says, in the past, Beijing has suspended the military talks; but this time, it reacted by postponing some military exchanges and joint counter-piracy exercises in the Gulf of Aden. officials are now working to reschedule all of it, in 2012.