September 29, 2009 / 1:48 PM / 10 years ago

China says willing to improve U.S. defense ties

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Tuesday said that it was willing to improve military relations with the United States, but also called on Washington to handle arms sales to self-ruled Taiwan cautiously.

“China takes a positive attitude on improving military exchanges with the U.S., and will expand common interests and cooperation to push forward military ties,” Xinhua news agency quoted Ma Xiaotian, Deputy Chief of General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, as saying.

Ma told visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg that both countries should “respect each other’s core interests” and “properly handle differences and sensitive issues,” adding that military relations “had shown positive signs.”

China’s military build-up, especially of its navy, has raised concerns in the United States, heightened by a series of standoffs in recent months between U.S. and Chinese ships.

But both countries have also been working together to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Still, the issue of Taiwan remains a thorny one.

China claims sovereignty over the democratic island, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control.

The United States formally recognizes Taiwan as part of China and has no diplomatic ties with the island, but is bound by law to sell Taiwan arms, much to China’s displeasure.

“We hope the U.S. cautiously handles issues of arms sales to Taiwan and vessel and plane surveillance,” Ma said, without elaborating.

“Steinberg said his country would work with China for better military relations, which was vital to the long-term development of bilateral ties,” the report added.

The U.S. visitor also met Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is tipped one day to become president.

Xi discussed Taiwan, as well as the restive Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, with Steinberg, Xinhua said.

Xi “hoped the U.S. side prudently and appropriately handled related issues, and maintained overall Sino-U.S. relations,” the report said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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