China holds out hope of resuming U.S. military ties

BEIJING (Reuters) - China and the United States will have military dialogue and exchanges “at an unspecified time in the future,” state media quoted a senior official as saying, after Beijing suspended ties in anger over arms sales to Taiwan.

Qian Lihua, head of the Defense Ministry’s Foreign Affairs Office, made the remarks to Michael Schiffer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, during a visit to Beijing, Xinhua news agency said late on Tuesday.

Xinhua quoted Qian as saying the two militaries “would conduct dialogue and exchanges at an unspecified time in the future, including an annual meeting on maritime military safety and consultations on defense.”

“Qian expressed hope the two militaries will, in a spirit of respect, mutual trust, equality and mutual benefit, effectively communicate during the exchanges, to jointly promote the healthy and stable development of military relations,” the report said.

“Qian said China-U.S. military ties are an important part of the China-U.S. bilateral relationship, adding that they have the opportunity to develop but also face problems” that should be “solved urgently,” Xinhua added.

“Safeguarding the stability of China-U.S. military relations should be a weighty responsibility to be shouldered by both sides,” Qian was paraphrased as saying.

Schiffer said the U.S. military wanted to work with China to establish a “stable and reliable” framework for relations, as “uninterrupted dialogue and exchange helps avoid misunderstandings,” Xinhua reported.

A Pentagon spokesman said before the trip that Schiffer hoped to use his visit to pursue the resumption of military-to-military ties.

China froze military contacts with the United States after the Obama administration notified Congress in January of a potential $6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan, which Beijing deems a rogue province.

Beijing then turned down a proposed fence-mending trip by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June.

Relations between Beijing and Washington have also soured over U.S. military exercises in the seas off Korea and what China sees as unwanted interference in a festering territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Xinhua said Qian also briefed the U.S. team on China’s stance on the South China Sea and joint military drills between the United States and South Korea. The report did not elaborate.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Lewis