By Li Hongmei, Specially for Sina English
Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie arrived in San Francisco on Friday to kick off his week-long official visit to the United States from May 4-10. This is also the first ever U.S. visit by a Chinese Defense Minister in nine years.
In a written speech upon his arrival at the airport, Liang said his visit aims to implement the consensus Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President Barack Obama reached on building a cooperative partnership of mutual respect and benefit, and push forward the development of bilateral and military ties in a healthy and stable way.
Hence, the visit has been viewed as a strong signal for improving military exchanges between the two nations.
Liang and his entourage will visit several major US military bases, especially the US Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Florida, the Marine base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, an Army base at Fort Benning in South Carolina, the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a naval base in San Diego.
Meanwhile, a sideline of the tour will see Liang Guanglie's visit to the families of the "Flying Tigers”, which were an American air squadron who flew on the side of the Chinese during the fight against the Japanese aggression during the World War II.
Besides, Liang is also scheduled to meet his American counterpart Leon Panetta on Monday in Washington and hold a joint press conference.
Officials at the US Department of Defense said the trip was planned some time ago and they thought Liang’s trip is regarded as part of moves to deepen bilateral relations following the official trip by China's Vice President Xi Jinping, to the US in February, which also included a visit to the Pentagon.
Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University, says Liang Guanglie's time is likely going to be focused on trying to restore the relationship with the US military establishment which became soured by the US decision to sell arms to Taiwan.
"The military ties between China and the US are comparatively weak to the relations in other sectors. If we can improve the military ties, our overall bilateral relations will get more stable. But the preconditions for improving relations are that the US halts arms sales to Taiwan, stops military's constant low-altitude and offshore reconnaissance to China, and lift restrictions set by the US laws on bilateral military exchanges," Jin said.
In 2010, the Chinese side cancelled scheduled military talks with the US after the Obama administration announced plans to sell 6.4 billion US dollars worth of arms to Taiwan.
One of the likely issues up for discussion this time will be the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea. The US side has been pushing to have the disputes solved through a multi-lateral framework, something the Chinese side is opposed to.
Despite this difference, both sides would pivot more toward pragmatic ways to expand common interests while reserving differences, as the two nations need to coordinate in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region rather than military confrontation.
This is also echoed by the just concluded Sino-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In such a demanding time, only cooperation, rather than confrontation, between the two powers can benefit them both as well as others.