Reporting from Beijing — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his Chinese counterpart said Monday that they would look for ways to increase military cooperation, but tensions over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and China's modernization of its armed forces remained unresolved.
At the start of a three-day visit, Gates said China had accepted his invitation for army Gen. Chen Bingde, a senior officer, to visit Washington this year and had agreed to consider talks on nuclear posture, missile defense and cyber warfare.
But the U.S. had sought specific dates for Chen's visit, a request that was rebuffed, and only managed to win Chinese assent to establish a working group of officials from both countries to study ways of improving military relations.
One of Gates' priorities on this visit is to win Beijing's agreement on closer military ties, a goal that Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie said China shared. In a joint news conference, both men emphasized the importance of easing tensions and preventing miscalculations between the two countries.
"We are in strong agreement that in order to reduce the chances of miscommunication, misunderstanding or miscalculation, it is important that our military-to-military ties are solid, consistent and not subject to shifting political winds," Gates said.
Chinese officials appeared intent to smooth over lingering tensions ahead of a visit to Washington next week by China's president, Hu Jintao.
Liang reiterated China's continuing opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, an issue that has caused repeated ruptures, most recently last January when Beijing broke off military contacts following the announcement of a $5.4-billion sale to the island.
He also played down U.S. concerns about China's effort to develop advanced fighters, missiles capable of destroying aircraft carriers and other weapons that appear aimed primarily at countering U.S. capabilities.
"The gap between us and that of advanced countries is at least two to three decades," Liang said. "There are some people who want to label China's military development as a threat to the world. I wish other countries would come up with a more reasonable conclusion."
Pentagon officials believe that Hu, who is preparing to step aside, and other civilian Chinese leaders want to improve relations with the Pentagon but that they face opposition from within their own military and among hard-line Chinese leaders.
Later Monday, at the Great Hall of the People, Gates met with Xi Jinping, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, who also stressed the need for closer ties.