US, China defense chiefs mend ties

BEIJING (AP) — The U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs took a step Monday toward mending frayed relations between their powerful militaries, though China warned ties could be cut again if Washington does not heed Beijing’s wishes.

Military contacts are fewer and less substantive than U.S.-Chinese interaction in the economic, political and diplomatic arenas, and both nations wanted to put a better face on the military relationship ahead of a high-stakes visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao next week.

The agreement stops short of the robust cooperation sought by Washington, and China pointedly refused to promise that friction over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan might not interfere.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie agreed after a morning of talks Monday to broaden some of their fragile military contacts and to study ways that the two nations might build a more formal structure for future talks. They set up a working group to look at establishing the larger and more enduring framework Gates wants.

Gates said the two nations agreed that military ties should be “solid, consistent and not subject to shifting political winds,” and he said he is sure that China’s People’s Liberation Army is behind the idea “as much as I am.”

The agreement marks an end to a rocky year in which Beijing cut off defense ties with the United States over arms sales to Taiwan, the democratic island that China claims.

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