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China postpones military exchanges with US

February 28, 2010

By Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Daniel Dombey in Beijing
The Financial Times (UK)
February 25, 2010

China has postponed several high-level military
exchanges with the US, in the first tangible sign
of retaliation over Washington’s decision to sell $6.4bn in arms to Taiwan.

"China has decided to suspend arrangements for
some planned mutual visits between the US and the
Chinese military," a Chinese military spokesman said on Thursday.

A Pentagon spokesman said the postponed exchanges
included a planned trip by General Chen Bingde,
China’s chief of the general staff, to the US. A
visit to China by Admiral Robert Willard, the
head of US Pacific Command, has also been
postponed. The spokesman said it was too early to
speculate whether other military exchanges would be impacted.

"[China] routinely uses our military-to-military
relationship to express displeasure," said the
spokesman. "Nevertheless, we are committed to
maintaining a positive, co-operative and
comprehensive relationship with China."

China last week allowed the USS Nimitz aircraft
carrier to dock at Hong Kong for a routine port
visit, suggesting that Beijing might adopt a
softer stance on the arms sales. At the same
time, however, Chinese military officers who had
been invited to a reception aboard the Nimitz declined to attend.

The suspension of military contacts will
complicate the difficult task of building trust
between the armed forces of the current sole
global superpower and its future most likely challenger.

Next month, the Pentagon is due to release its
annual report on the Chinese military -- an
exercise that regularly stresses concerns about
Beijing’s military build-up. The report generally
triggers an angry response from Beijing that the
US is trying to demonise China.

The US military and the People’s Liberation Army
in China have tried to broaden dialogue over the
past few years through high-level visits,
military student exchanges and port calls. Such
contacts had recently been stepped up after China
cut most military ties following the last big
announcement by the US of arms sales to Taiwan in 2008.

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, and Admiral
Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of
staff, had been expected to visit China this year.

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