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U.S., China resuming military dialogue: Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China and the United States are resuming high-level military dialogue, with talks scheduled in Hawaii in mid-October and more in Washington later this year, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The announcement signaled an end to China’s freeze on military contacts with the United States, imposed after the Obama administration notified Congress in January of a potential $6.4 billion arms package for Taiwan, which Beijing considers a rogue province.

U.S. and Chinese officials would meet for talks as part of a maritime agreement in Hawaii on October 14-15. They would then hold high-level defense consultative talks in Washington later in the year, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Lower-level contacts between the U.S. and Chinese militaries would resume as well.

Asked whether this represented the end of the freeze, Colonel Dave Lapan said: “I’d say yes.”

“We’ve agreed to resume these types of engagements,” he said.

The decision to resume talks followed a trip by Michael Schiffer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, to Beijing this week.

“The intent was to have a conversation about how to reinvigorate and put onto a normal track our military-to-military exchanges,” Lapan said.

Chinese state media quoted a senior defense official earlier on Wednesday saying China and the United States would have military dialogue and exchanges “at an unspecified time in the future.”

Ties between Washington and Beijing have been tested this year over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Internet policy, Tibet, China’s currency and Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The U.S. trade deficit with China, worth $226.9 billion in 2009, has fueled trade disputes.

U.S.-South Korean military drills have also sparked an outcry in China, despite official U.S. assurances they are aimed at North Korea, not Beijing. The exercises followed the sinking of a South Korean warship and have been billed as a deterrent to the North.

A question still outstanding is whether U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates might visit China. Beijing took the extraordinary step of turning down a proposed fence-mending visit by Gates in June.

Lapan said talk of a visit by Gates came up during this week’s talks in Beijing.

“That was a topic of conversation during these talks. No decisions were made but we may see something on that in the future,” Lapan said.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Xavier Briand