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US, China Military Leaders Hold High-Level Washington Talks

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff, People's Liberation Army, People's Republic of China at Comny Hall Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall on May 17, 2011.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets General Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff, People's Liberation Army, People's Republic of China at Comny Hall Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall on May 17, 2011.

U.S. and Chinese military leaders held their first day of high-level talks in Washington on Tuesday, but postponed a highly anticipated press conference because talks were going so well.

In a brief statement Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said the discussions between General Chen Bingde, China's chief of the general staff, and Admiral Mike Mullen, his U.S. counterpart - were productive - so much so that they want to continue them on Wednesday.

The Pentagon did not say what the two military leaders discussed.

General Chen is scheduled to meet with members of Congress on Wednesday, as well as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

He will also deliver a speech at Washington's National Defense University and afterwards hold a joint press conference with Admiral Mullen.

Jonathan Pollack a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution - a Washington based research group - says the rare opportunity for the two military leaders to meet face to face may have triggered the decision to postpone the press conference.

"Too often, these exchanges end up being way too scripted. But, if there was enough worthy of extended conversation, I think that it made very good sense to defer for now the press conference," Pollack said.

Military to military relations between China and the United States have long been challenged and General Chen is the highest ranking Chinese military official to visit the United States in seven years.  

The visit comes just months after Chinese President Hu Jintao held a summit with President Obama in Washington and at a time when analysts say military to military relations between the two countries appear to be improving.

"This visit has not been easy to arrange. This has been a military to military relationship that has been, at best, very unsteady over the last few years. So, both should make the most of the time and opportunity that is there," Pollack said.

Although the Pentagon did not release any details of what the two military leaders discussed, analysts have long pointed to the problem of mistrust between the two sides.

In China, there is concern that the United States is trying to constrain its rise and that Washington does not want Beijing to be a major player on the global stage. In the U.S., there are concerns about the lack of transparency when it comes to China's plans for military development and its ultimate goals.

Pollack says he hopes that is something General Chen addresses when he speaks Wednesday at the National Defense University instead of just giving assurances about China's peaceful intentions.

"The question is whether or not he feels comfortable in that venue to much more directly assess, not what the Chinese say about themselves, but much more the concerns that the U.S. and others have raised about China's military development and long term goals," Pollack said.

After a busy day in Washington on Wednesday, Chen is scheduled to visit several military installations including Norfolk Naval Station on Thursday where he will tour a Navy destroyer and air wing and the Army's National Training Center in Fort Irwin on Saturday. General Chen is scheduled to return home to China on Sunday.

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