China and the United States moved Friday to establish regular dialogue between their armies as part of efforts to build trust and understanding amid rising regional tensions.
Relations between the two militaries, which have progressed by fits and starts, are now “headed in the right direction,” visiting U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said.
“I have a very positive opinion on our future relationship as we develop the army dialogue,” Odierno told the People’s Liberation Army’s Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui at a meeting at the Defense Ministry in western Beijing.
“I believe these discussions are important to continue our dialogue. We have many common objectives,” Odierno said.
Fang and other Chinese generals with whom Odierno met said a consensus had been reached on holding regular meetings and boosting cooperation between the U.S. and Chinese land forces on topics such as peacekeeping and educational exchanges.
Fang said China agreed with Odierno’s suggestion that relations between the two armies should advance on the principles of engagement, sharing and balance.
“I think that is quite a constructive idea,” Fang said.
If successful, the army-to-army engagement could prove a boon to American officers who have long attempted to draw the People’s Liberation Army out of its traditional culture of secrecy and mistrust of the U.S. military.
Though no details were given, the sides had also said they planned to discuss regional security matters, a nod to bitter disputes between China and two U.S. allies – Japan and the Philippines – over territorial claims in the East and South China seas that have raised alarms over the possibility of armed conflict.
The director of intelligence for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Capt. James Fanell, said last week that Chinese war games held last year were engineered to ready forces to snatch away the uninhabited islands from Japan, a move that almost certainly would trigger an American military response.
China also sparked U.S. concerns late last year when it unexpectedly announced an air defense zone encompassing a large swath of the East China Sea, including islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing.
Washington has refused to recognize the zone or follow China’s demands that its aircraft file flight plans with Beijing’s Defense Ministry and heed Chinese instructions. China has warned of unspecified retaliatory measures against aircraft that do not comply, but has so far taken no action.
Odierno’s visit began hours before a scheduled meeting later Friday in Washington between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama that drew a strong protest from China. Beijing accuses the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader of being a separatist agitator and opposes any meetings between him and foreign leaders.
Despite tensions between them, the two militaries have pushed ahead with limited steps to reduce longstanding mistrust. They have held simulations aimed at cooperating in humanitarian relief operations, and China’s navy later this year is to take part in multinational naval exercises off Hawaii.
Earlier Friday, Odierno, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was welcomed with full military honors, visited the headquarters of the Beijing Military Region and held a dialogue with scholars and students at prestigious Peking University.
Odierno will travel north on Saturday to tour the headquarters of China’s Shenyang Military Region.
(Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)