China and the United States ended two days of military talks in Beijing on Saturday. This comes five months after China froze virtually all military exchanges between the two countries, in response to a major U.S. arms sale to Taiwan in October.
At the beginning of the two-day talks in Beijing on Friday, the Chinese Defense Ministry's Major General Qian Lihua said that China-U.S. military relations "remain difficult."
Yet as the talks ended Saturday, Qian's U.S. counterpart was describing a different mood entirely. David Sedney, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, told reporters these were the most positive and productive talks he has participated in between the U.S. and China military establishments in his 18 years of experience.
"They were the best not because we pretended that everything was fine and that everything was resolved, but because we worked very seriously to address the obstacles while at the same time engaging in some discussions in some of the new areas, like counter-piracy, where we came up with some really concrete ways to move forward," he said.
Besides praising China's anti-piracy efforts in waters off the coast of Somalia, Sedney said progress was made in discussing issues like military transparency.
The U.S. delegation also briefed the Chinese on American activities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring regions. Sedney said he described U.S. President Barack Obama's plan for an ongoing strategic review in Afghanistan, as well as Mr. Obama's decision to send 17,000 additional troops there.
"They were quite interested, as they pointed out, Afghanistan and Pakistan are both neighbors of China and they follow those situations very closely," said Sedney. "It's one of those areas where we do have some shared objectives. We both are concerned about terrorism, we both are concerned about extremism."
Sedney said the Chinese side acknowledged that more countries need to give assistance in Afghanistan, but no specific requests were made of the Chinese government during these talks.
Although Sedney was overwhelming in his praise for the frank and friendly nature of the talks, the one issue where it seems little progress was made was Taiwan.
China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory, cancelled most cooperative events in the military sphere after the U.S. made a $6.5 billion arms sale to the self-ruled island last October. Sedney said this sale, which includes advanced weaponry such as 30 Apache helicopters and 330 Patriot missiles, is still moving forward.
Sedney called the last five months of frozen exchanges a "pause" that gave both sides more perspective on the need for continuing dialogue. He said both the U.S. and China agreed to hold high-level military exchanges very soon.