BEIJING— A top U.S. defense official says that, although America wants a stronger relationship with China it will not come at the expense of ties Washington has with Japan.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey told a group of several hundred soldiers stationed in Japan Thursday that, when he met with Chinese officials this week, he made the point to them that improving ties with Beijing cannot be an “either or” question for the United States.
"Would we trade off our relationship with Japan in order to have a stronger relationship with China? The answer is 'No'," Dempsey said.
Tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have been rising once again this week as Dempsey and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns paid visits to China.
On Wednesday, more than 160 Japanese lawmakers paid their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine. Three government ministers made a similar visit to the Shinto site in Tokyo last week.
The shrine honors 2.5 million of Japan's war dead, including some convicted war criminals from World War Two.
China has lodged "solemn representations" to Japan about the visit. China’s foreign ministry says Japanese leaders should learn to "respect the feelings of the people of China and other victimized countries."
China has also criticized plans by the United States and Japan to hold a island recapture drill in late June off of California.
Ties between Japan and China are at their lowest point in years. A dispute between the two countries about a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea - that both claim as their own - has been testing ties since last year.
China has called the drill provocative, but adds that such exercises will not sway Beijing from defending its territory.
In addition, with tensions with U.S.-ally Japan, Washington and Beijing are facing a wide range of challenges including trade frictions, cyber-security and long-standing differences on human rights.
Even so, both say they remain committed to moving forward. During Dempsey’s visit to Beijing this week, U.S. and Chinese officials stressed their readiness to build trust and strengthen military to military ties.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who held talks with Vice President Li Yuanchao and State Councilor Yang Jiechi Thursday, stressed the importance that the United States places on relations with Beijing.
Vice President Li Yuanchao said Beijing also wants to keep the relationship moving in a positive direction.
Li said China and the United States can deepen their trust by strengthening their dialogue. He says the two countries should build on their shared interests and also work to handle their differences as well to remove any obstacles from the relationship.
"We can deepen our mutual trust by strengthening dialogue. And we should expand our shared interests so as to deliver mutual benefits to both sides. We also need to appropriately handle our differences to remove any interferences from the relationship," stated Li.
China and the United States are scheduled to hold a major round of talks this July in Washington. The talks will include group discussions on climate change as well as cyber security, an issue both Beijing and Washington have traded accusations about in recent months.