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American Forces Press Service

Keating to Seek More U.S.-Sino Military Engagement

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2009 – The top U.S. commander in the Pacific said yesterday he’s “cautiously optimistic” last week’s Military Maritime Consultative Agreement talks in Beijing have opened the door to closer military-to-military engagement between the United States and China.

Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters during a three-day visit to Australia and New Zealand that he wants to see progress in moving the military relationship forward. “We are anxious to engage with them,” he said.

The engagement will help to promote understanding between the two countries, particularly in light of China’s military buildup, Keating said. “We want to understand much better than we do now China’s intention,” he added.

Keating said during a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand, that he doesn’t consider China to be a threat in the region, and that more engagement will help prevent it from becoming one.

“We want to engage with them on a more frequent basis,” he said. “We want to have them participate in bilateral [and] multilateral exercises. We want to send personnel to their military schools.”

Australia could play a pivotal role in encouraging more openness on China’s part and in strengthening U.S.-Sino ties, he said. Australian Defense Force Chief Angus Houston, who Keating met with in Sydney, reportedly will approach the Chinese as well, to pitch unprecedented three-nation military exercises.

Keating's visit to Australia and New Zealand follows a special session of the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement talks in Beijing. The session, held Aug. 26 and 27, focused on the safety of sailors and airmen who sometimes operate in international waters near China.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Randolph Alles, Pacom’s director of plans and policy, and Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, led the U.S. delegation. Navy Rear Adm. Guan Youfei, deputy director of the Chinese National Defense Ministry’s foreign affairs office, was the senior Chinese representative.

The Military Maritime Consultative Agreement talks were “frank and cordial,” and both the United States and China agreed to a schedule of follow-on meetings to continue the discussion, Air Force Maj. Maureen Schumann, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told American Forces Press Service.

Then-Defense Secretary William Cohen and Chinese Defense Minister Gen Chi Haotian signed the agreement in 1998 to strengthen military maritime safety.

The agreement’s framework is one of many that promote bilateral discussions with China. Collectively, they contribute to a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship, Schumann said. While the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement focuses on increasing safety, the Defense Policy Consultative Talks and Defense Consultative Talks provide a venue for discussing policy issues, she explained.

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