US, Chinese defence chiefs meet in bid to rebuild ties

Gates and Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie talked in Hanoi ahead of an inaugural Asia-wide defence forum being held in the Vietnamese capital tomorrow.

Gates told reporters that Liang invited him to visit China, and he accepted, although the timing of the trip still had to be worked out.

He said today's talks were "constructive" and represented "a good forward step."
US officials had played down expectations for the meeting, saying it was merely one step in a broader, delicate effort that would take time.

China broke off military relations in January over US plans to sell Taiwan more than six billion dollars' worth of arms, including Blackhawk helicopters, Patriot missiles and mine-hunting ships.

President Barack Obama's administration faces a difficult challenge trying to build trust with China while also defending the US naval presence in the Pacific Ocean and reassuring anxious partners in the region who feel threatened by Beijing's more assertive stance.

China has sharply criticised the US for recent joint military exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, and for sailing naval ships in the South China Sea.Gates has urged the Chinese to embrace defence exchanges to avoid misunderstandings and "miscalculations".

Earlier today he called for an international approach to resolving territorial disputes in the Pacific, despite China's opposition to any multilateral deal brokered by Washington.
In remarks that appeared aimed at China, Gates said that "increasingly, we find that relying exclusively on bilateral relationships is not enough -- we need multilateral institutions in order to confront the most important security challenges in the region."
He made the remarks in a speech to military officers at Vietnam National University in Hanoi.

Beijing's claims to potentially resource-rich archipelagos in the South China Sea have put it at odds with Vietnam and some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

China favours handling the South China Sea issue bilaterally with individual claimants, while ASEAN members have called for negotiating a "code of conduct" for all nations.

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