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Senior US, Chinese Military Officials Finish Talks - 2002-06-28

Top U.S. and Chinese military officials finished talks aimed at improving relations badly strained by last year's deadly collision between American and Chinese warplanes. But details of progress were sketchy.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman met with China's Defense Minister Chi Haotian, deputy chief of the General Staff Xiong Guankai and others in Beijing during a two-day visit that ended Thursday. "I'm here to work with my colleagues to try to find ways to develop military relations between our countries," he said.

Mr. Rodman is the highest level U.S. military official to visit China since the mid-air collision put Sino-American relations in a slump that lasted for months.

A U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided near China's Hainan island more than a year ago. The Chinese pilot died in the incident, and the U.S. crew was detained for several days on Hainan after landing their crippled plane.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the talks made progress. "The two sides wish to improve relations, especially to restore and develop military exchanges in a frank and constructive atmosphere," he said. "They both think a stable Sino-U.S. relationship is critically important to the interests of both sides."

After the discussions, Defense Minister Chi told China's state-controlled press Beijing is ready to work toward better military relations. But he added Washington should bear "full responsibility" for the "twists and turns" in relations between the two sides.

In the past, military contacts included exchanges, academic conferences, and visits to military facilities. U.S. officers say such exchanges make it easier to avoid dangerous misunderstandings in times of crisis. Exchanges were sharply curtailed during the bickering over the collision.

Relations in other areas have already improved, with President Bush visiting China twice in the past year, and China's president expected to travel to the United States before the end of this year.